CAPE TOWN — Is this the year South African Giniel de Villiers will win the Dakar rally? De Villiers and his team-mate Dirk von Zitzewitz finished third in 2012 and second last year. He tweeted from Buenos Aires on New Year’s day that his Toyota Hilux felt good and all was ready for the challenge. Dakar 2014 starts tomorrow in Rosario, Argentina’s third city. De Villiers drove the bakkie from Buenos Aires to Rosario where it was undergoing strict technical checks. His father, Smittie de Villiers of Paarl, said he follows his son’s progress every year and that his stomach is in a knot from nerves. He said Giniel’s Hilux has been considerably strengthened since last year, with major improvements to the suspension. The team have also worked on the brakes, which had a tendency to overheat last year, he said. The cab has also been made more comfortable, after De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz endured temperatures of up to 66° Celsuis while racing through the desert with the windows closed against the dust. “He is aiming for first. The Hilux has been considerably improved. But Giniel would never say he wants to win. He always says you first have to finish before you can finish first,” said Smittie. He mentioned that there is something of a controversy because no restrictions have been placed on the two-wheel drive beach buggie-type vehicles, which have seven-litre V8 engines, while the bakkies have five-litre V8 engines. “Their tyres can be deflated or reinflated from inside the cab just by pressing a button. With the bakkies, the team have to stop, get out and deflate or pump their tyres by hand. You can imagine how much time you lose.” He said the different regulations are a legacy of when the buggies were raced by amateurs and they have now been advantaged by technical improvements. “Giniel says that if nothing goes wrong with the buggies, like overturning or landing in a ditch, they can be difficult to beat.” • The Associated Press reports that Bolivian Aymara Indians are vowing to block rally competitors from Bolivia’s high-altitude salt flats, where President Evo Morales is hoping the world’s hardest rally will boost tourism. Race organisers are permitting only motorbikes and quad bikes near Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world. Cars and trucks will take a more direct route from Argentina into Chile on January 12 and 13. Locals fear that vehicles will damage the shiny white surface of the flats.