Dakar Rally stalwart Luc Alphand has admitted that he is harbouring several concerns about this year's 'transplanted' event, which kicks off in Argentina on Saturday.

Despite his Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team having done all it can to ensure that its all-new Lancer machine is ready to tackle the unfamiliar tests of South America - which takes over from the traditional Dakar course following last year's terrorist threats - Alphand has confessed that, as well as fearing a renewed challenge from the Japanese marque's rivals, that the conditions will also be a problem.

"It's going to be tough for the next three weeks," the Frenchman - who also regularly competes at the Le Mans 24 Hours - insisted, "It's going to be a big race, but it is hot here in the summer and we have many kilometres to go. I am happy to start and ready to go, but I do have some worries about how I will physically manage this race. But we have been here for a while and I am in good shape."

Moving the event from the Sahara to the South American pampas should not present Alphand with too many worries about the route as he has tackled the local rally raid with Mitsubishi in recent years, but he is concerned about the number of new elements that the team is taking to Buenos Aires for tonight's ceremonial start and Saturday's opening stage.

"The fact that we are in South America for the first time has made this a more open playing field for everyone," he noted, "Four or five of the stages are known to drivers who have taken part in the Por las Pampas Rally, and we know some of the tracks, but we have a new race format, a new car, a new engine and a new name, so we are really turning the corner into a new era at the same time as the Dakar has moved to South America."

In common with Mitsubishi team-mates Joan Roma, Stephane Peterhansel and Hiroki Masuoka, Alphand is taking nothing for granted as the squad chases an eighth Dakar win, with traditional rivals expected to push the Lancers hard.

"I am expecting a huge fight over the first two days," he conceded, "I am not sure that we are super fast in top speed, and that is why people like [Robby] Gordon and [Nasser] Al-Attiyah and a couple of the Volkswagens will want to start fast. But there is so much to go afterwards.

"I will not be worried if I am sixth or eighth after two days, I just want to be close to the pack and stay on the road. We have had no race since September, but we have all trained well, although it will take one or two days to get back into the pace of the race."

Multiple Dakar winner Peterhansel also suggested that American Gordon may take advantage of Mitsubishi feeling its way into the event.

"We will have a good level, but everyone will start fast and maybe, after two days, Gordon will lead the race and it will not be easy for Mitsubishi to be inside the top five in the early stages," he explained, "And it is not easy to say that we can win the rally first time with the new car.

"We had a long test and the feeling is that the car is fast and gives good performance. The feeling for me is that we have a good level, but we need to have confirmation of this during the race. With the old atmospheric engine, we had a big problem racing at altitude and lost a lot of power, so we have also worked very hard with the chassis of the car, the suspension and shock absorbers. We must remember that, inside the car, it is not just about the engine."



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