Grand parade in Fangio country for Dakar hopefuls

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The 37th Dakar Rally gets underway Sunday with 406 vehicles facing a 9,000km odyssey through Argentina, Chile and Bolivia and with competitors ranging from 18 years of age to 73. Organisers estimated there were around 650,000 people watching Saturday's traditional eve of race parade through the streets of Buenos Aires, beating the 600,000 who turned up when the gruelling event was first transplanted from Africa in 2009. The parade which stretched to the Casa Rosada, the home of the Argentine president, featured an intriguing mix, 24 hours before the Dakar sets off on its first stage. "It's the country of Juan Manuel Fangio," said David Castera, the event's sporting director in reference to the country's legendary five-time world motor racing champion. "In each town, in each village, there is an autodrome, a real passion for motor sports." Saturday's parade featured defending champions Nani Roma of Mini and Marc Coma on a KTM. Former champions -- and challengers again in 2015 -- Stephane Peterhansel, Cyril Despres and Carlos Sainz were also on hand as members of the powerful Peugeot team which is making its return to the Dakar after 25 years. The biggest cheer was reserved for Orlando Terranova, the Argentine driver who is also expected to be amongst the front runners with the factory Mini squad which swept the podium in 2014. Three days of scrutineering in the Argentine capital saw eight vehicles -- one car, three quads, three motorcycles and a lorry -- ruled out of the race which will cross the Andes as well as the deserts of Chile and Bolivia. In all there are 13 stages with the finish set for Buenos Aires on January 17. Peugeot may boast the biggest budget and a trio of former champions, but race director Etienne Lavigne insisted that does not guarantee success. Recalling how it took Volkswagen four years to record a first victory in 2009, the race chief said: "They have the best drivers, that's for sure, but just this isn't enough." Peugeot and Mini will be the overwhelming favourites, but there are other potential headline makers. Catherine Houles and Sandrine Ridet make up the only all-female team while Spanish alternative technology giants Acciona sponsor a 100 percent electric vehicle. Santosh Chunchunguppe Shivashankar, alias CS Santosh, is India's first ever representative and he will be riding a KTM motorcycle. Jorge Lacunza is an 18-year-old rider while 73-year-old lorry driver Yoshimasa Sugawara is starting his 32nd Dakar. Sunday's first stage will be over 838km from the capital to Villa Carlos Paz but only 175km will be timed. The serious racing begins on Monday with the longest stage of 625km of which 518km is against the clock.

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