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 Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 15:11 GMT
Rally competitors set for start
Hiroshi Masuoka in his Mitsubishi on the way to winning the 10th stage of the Paris-Dakar Rally
Defending champion Hiroshi Masuoka on his way to victory
The 25th Paris-Dakar Rally starts on Wednesday with competitors facing new challenges.

The event will avoid Senegal and the western Sahara and will instead head east for new desert challenges in Libya and Egypt.

It starts with a night prologue from Marseille to Narbonne before the 342 competitors head for Spain and a ferry crossing from Valencia to Tunis on 5 January.

The caravan of cars, bikes and trucks then head across North Africa to the finish in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on 19 January.

The rally will cover 8,552 km, including 5,216 km on special stages but, despite the name, will not visit Paris or Dakar.

Organisers and competitors say that the rally will still be testing with the Libyan desert dune stages ranking among the hardest ever tackled.

"This will be a difficult Dakar and not to be under-estimated," said 2001 winner Jutta Kleinschmidt, the first woman to take the title.

"It will also be a sandy one. The landscape of the three countries we'll be crossing is characterised by sand dunes.

"With a rear-wheel drive car like the Buggy, this is going to be difficult terrain," she said.

Former Formula One driver Ukyo Katayama
Katayama spent time with the Minardi and Jordan F1 teams

Finland's former world rally champion and four times Dakar winner Ari Vatanen returns at the wheel of a Nissan after a six year absence.

Among the favourites for the race will be former winner Jean-Louis Schlesser of France and Japan's defending champion Hiroshi Masuoka in a Mitsubishi.

Ex-Formula One drive Ukyo Katayama of Japan is ready for his second time in the race in a Toyota.

"I achieved one of my life's dreams two months ago when I climbed Everest," admitted Katayama.

"But the Dakar is much tougher than Le Mans and Formula One. For me, it's the toughest race in the world."

The motorcycle category is again dominated by the KTM brand, with Italian Fabrizio Meoni defending his title and chasing his third win in the event.

See also:

04 Nov 02 | Motorsport
13 Jan 02 | Motorsport
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