The 2010 Dakar Rally officially began today, amid Argentina's bicentennial celebrations, with a total of 362 competitors leaving the Buenos Aires start this afternoon.
Starting from Argentina's capital for the second successive year, the competitors celebrated the new year by leaving a rapturous crowd on Avenida 9 de Julio in the north of the city. The crowds, which the organisers were hoping to exceed the half million mark achieved last year, continued to line the route beside the obelisk on famous Plaza de la Republica.
This opening day of the marathon South American rally is ceremonial and does not contain a timed contest. The crews will now make their way west to Colon, from where the first timed section starts tomorrow morning.
There are 134 cars entered, 52 trucks and 25 quad-bikes. The motorcycle class is the most strongly supported entry, with 151 riders competing to emulate Marc Coma, who won last year's bike element.
Describing tomorrow's 684km trek from Colon to Cordoba, containing a 251km competitive section, the event organisers said: "In the first days of the rally, overtaking is sometimes tricky. To make things easier between the bikers and the car and truck crews, a doubled course has been designed with just a few kilometres less for the riders.
"While the course will be separated, the programme remains similar with tracks that will seduce the sliding specialists.
"In the car class, experts will have noticed a tribute to the Argentinean leg of the World Rally Championship that usually goes through the Calamuchita Valley. The drivers will be able to express themselves."
From the province of Buenos Aires, the route runs through Santa Fe and Cordoba, along the Sierra los Comechingones - the 2,000 metre high natural border between Cordoba and San Luis - to the city of Cordoba and the end of the first significant competition of Dakar 2010.
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