Frenchman Christian Lavieille is gearing up for a new Dakar adventure. Although Saudi Arabia is uncharted territory for him and most of the participants, after winning the T2 category in his Autobody Toyota Landcruiser, the pressure is on to defend his South American title. We caught up with him in Paris, right after the route was unveiled.
Christian, the route and terrain has just been announced. What are your initial thoughts?
It’s a great evolution. After racing in South America for such a long time, you get to know the terrain and get used to it, so this is a welcome change. It looks like another amazing challenge. I’m very much looking forward to discovering the Saudi landscapes. From what I saw in the presentation, it looks absolutely incredible. The scenery might be beautiful, but I already know it’s going to be a tricky event for us. The stages are very long and, although our Landcruiser can cope with any terrain, it’s clear that we’re going to be spending a lot of time in the car. Compared to the much lighter two-wheel drive buggies, our heavy land cruiser is much slower in the sand – and Saudi Arabia has a lot of sand (laughs). That being said, I’m convinced we can still be very competitive in our category and definitely defend our title.
You’ve got a lot of experience in all kinds of events. Have you ever raced in this region before?
No not at all. I’ve done so many events in Africa and Asia but somehow this region, even though it has many rally raid events, seems to have escaped me. I have no real idea what to expect, which makes it quite exciting.
You’re returning to the Dakar in your trusted Toyota Landcruiser. Have any changes been made to the car compared to last year?
Yes, we have made two significant changes to the car. First, we’ve changed from a mechanical gearbox to an automatic gearbox. And on top of that we’ve changed the engine management system from an OEM Toyota system to one developed by Magnetti Marelli. Since those two upgrades the car has been performing really well in the tests, but we have yet to compete in it, so the Dakar will be the moment of truth.
We’ve got about forty days left until the official start of the 2020 Dakar. What are your final preparations?
I’ve done a lot of cycling and skiing throughout the year, and I’m in good shape at this point so now is the time to slow down a little and start thinking about resting up to making sure that not only I’m in great physical shape but also well-rested before this event. Because it will be a tough one.