Dakar Rally gets off to symbolic start

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Dakar Rally gets off to symbolic start

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina - The Dakar Rally got off to a symbolic start on Saturday ahead of a 15-day race that will take competitors from Argentina through Chile to a finish in Lima, Peru.

This is the fourth straight year that the event takes place in South America. After three years of racing on a loop course that started and ended in the Argentina capital Buenos Aires, the race begins this time in the Atlantic coastal city of Mar del Plata, with the finish 9,000 kilometers (5,500 miles) away on the Pacific coast in Peru. Saturday’s processional ride does not count in the timed standings, with the first official leg from Mar del Plata to Santa Rosa to be held Sunday.

Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar, who won last year’s car category driving a Volkswagen, is back this year in a Hummer. Defending bike champion Marc Coma of Spain is back with KTM. Al-Attiyah was one of the last drivers to sign up for the race and has little time to get used to his new vehicle.

“I am comfortable inside this car, I am getting the feel of it,’’ he said. “But I still have to get acquainted with it, so I will play things safe in the first stages and then step things up a notch every day.’’

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