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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 16:16 GMT
Schlesser's diesel switch
Jean-Louis Schlesser in action in 2001
The Paris-Dakar rally crosses unforgiving terrain
Jean-Louis Schlesser will try to regain his Paris-Dakar Rally title by using diesel power.

The Frenchman has decided to take a calculated risk that he describes as the "biggest challenge".

As a result of his swap from petrol to diesel, the 1999 and 2000 winner's Renault-engined "Schlesser Special" will be less powerful.

The annual endurance race includes a rigorous 10 stages in the western Sahara, and if his car can last the distance, handling may prove easier in a lighter vehicle.

"Renault's technicians did a perfect job and I hope I can be on the podium in Dakar," Schlesser said.

"Claiming victory with a diesel engine is the biggest challenge of the past 10 years," he added.

Schlesser's hopes of victory will also depend on Jutta Kleinschmidt's form and fortune over the 10,000km course that winds its way through five countries.

Richard Sainct in action in 2001
Richard Sainct is out to win back his bikes title
The defending champion will be part of the strong Mitsubishi team but is not overly confident of repeating her success of last January.

"The rally will be different this year - every pilot will have to keep in mind that long stages are demanding," the German said.

"Crossing Mauritania will be very exciting and the race can be won or lost there.

"Within the team everyone is looking forward to being in Africa. My team-mates will be my main competitors, but I want to win again."

Fabrizio Meoni and Richard Sainct will mirror the battle between Kleinschmidt and Schlesser in the motorcycle category.

Meoni is the defending champion, but Sainct, like his compatriot Schlesser, is keen to re-claim the title he held in 1999 and 2000.

"I'm trained and my motorbike is perfect," Sainct said.

"My aim is to win, but the desert is so unpredictable and never forgives a mistake."

The rally starts in Arras in northern France on 28 December and will finish 17 days later.

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