The 2009 Dakar Rally was won by a pair of diesel-powered Touareg TDIs. The oil-burners will face a new type of competition in the 2010 Dakar race thanks to a new ethanol-powered vehicle category. For the first time in the rally's 31-year history, a flex-fuel vehicle – a Mitsubishi Pajero Sport – will compete. Why is the change happening this year (the second that the race will be held in South America)? Because Brazilian rally veteran and former Paris-Dakar winner Klever Kolberg asked that the category be added – and the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) said it would give its full support. The Pajero Sport that Kooberg will drive was made in Brazil, too. Kolberg said that there is a lot of agreement among the race teams that an ethanol category was overdue.
Last year, Mitsubishi was pushing its clean diesel technology in Dakar, but some say that the race can't be considered environmentally friendly no matter what fuel is used.
World's Most Prominent Rally Race, Dakar Debuts New 'Ethanol' Category in 2010 with Support from Brazil's Sugarcane Industry
SAO PAULO, Sept. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- For the first time in its 31-year history, the world's largest rally competition, formerly known as Paris-Dakar, will include in its 2010 edition a category in which competing vehicles will run on ethanol. The new category was introduced by the organizers at the request of Brazilian rally veteran and former Paris-Dakar winner Klever Kolberg, who will drive the first-ever flex-fuel vehicle to take part in the prestigious race next year -- a Brazilian-made 2010 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport model equipped with flex-fuel technology, with support from the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA).
Kolberg, who finished first in the 1993 competition in the "marathon motorcycles" category, appropriately launched his 2010 renewable fuel effort at the world's largest fair dedicated to the sugar-energy industry, the annual Fenasucro, held in the town of Sertaozinho in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, the heart of Brazil's sugarcane industry. After a news conference at the UNICA booth, Kolberg held a one-hour autograph-signing session next to one of his training vehicles, on exhibit during the four-day event.
"Professional sport has always been aligned with the business world and sustainability has been at the top of the agenda for quite some time. Today it is easier to get to any part of the world, and the Rally Dakar is proof of that. The question is what fuel will we use, and if we choose clean energy, the world thanks us," said Kolberg, who was also the first Brazilian ever to face the challenges of the Paris-Dakar race in 1988, when it was held mostly in Africa.
"I left behind a comfortable situation, in which my previous rally team was widely supported, to pursue this project which I believe will be extremely important for the sport and the Dakar itself, given its worldwide presence. And I'm receiving a great deal of support from competitors who want the Ethanol Category to be a success," adds Kolberg.
There is special meaning in supporting Kolberg's effort according to UNICA President, Marcos Jank. "Ethanol is already utilized by the Indy Racing League, which is one of the most important racing categories in the world, and it is being adopted by a variety of categories here in Brazil and around the world. It is certainly significant to see that trend now arriving also at the Dakar, without a doubt one of the great events of its kind in the globe," he said.
Choosing ethanol for a challenge of the Dakar Rally's magnitude also makes sense from a technical point of view, according to UNICA's technology and emissions expert, Alfred Szwarc: "A rally race demands performance, toughness and reliability from a vehicle if it is to get to the finish line and be competitive, and flex-fuel technology is certainly capable of meeting these challenges with clear advantages over gasoline or diesel, especially from a sustainability perspective."
First introduced in 2003, flex-fuel vehicles have become a resounding success in Brazil. In the first six months of 2009, flex models accounted for 93% of all new light vehicle sales. Cars equipped with flex technology run on pure ethanol, gasoline or any combination of the two. Currently, eleven automakers produced close to 70 flex-fuel models in Brazil: Citroen, Fiat, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot, Renault, Toyota and Volkswagen.
New continent, new circuit
The 2010 Dakar will be held in Argentina and Chile, with the start set for January 1st in Buenos Aires. In 2008, a day before the start of that year's event from Lisbon, the competition was cancelled because of security risks in Mauritania, where four French tourists had been murdered. Renamed Dakar, it has since been run in South America. The event currently attracts more than 500 vehicles, including cars, SUVs, motorcycles and trucks.
The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) represents the top producers of sugar and ethanol in the country's South-Central region, especially the state of Sao Paulo, which accounts for about 50% of the country's sugarcane harvest and 60% of total ethanol production. UNICA develops position papers, statistics and specific research in support of Brazil's sugar, ethanol and bioelectricity sectors. In 2008, Brazil produced an estimated 565 million metric tons of sugarcane, which yielded 31.3 million tons of sugar and 25.7 billion liters (6.8 billion gallons) of ethanol.