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2018 Dakar Rally kicks off today, 40th year overall and 10th year in South America

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Editor’s note: NBCSN will have daily coverage from the Rally starting on Sunday and running through the end of the Rally, while MotorSportsTalk will also have daily recaps to keep you up to date on the Rally’s progress each day.

Imagine driving from New York to Los Angeles – and then back, roughly about 5,600 miles roundtrip.

And you have 14 days to do it in, meaning you have to average about 400 miles per day.

Sure, you get a break at the end of each day to rest up for the following day’s adventure, but forget about staying in five-star hotels or eating at world-class restaurants.

In fact, you’re likely to pitch a tent next to your ride so you can get up bright and early the next morning and just hop into your vehicle and get back on the road as quick as you can.

Now, further imagine that instead of interstate or multi-lane highways, you’re driving almost solely off-road, to the point where some roads seemingly aren’t roads at all.

Plus, you go through a multitude of conditions and altitudes, from oceans and beaches to deserts to mountains, dodging not only other cars, trucks and motorcycles along the way, but also huge boulders, big dips, rivers, heavy brush, powdery fine sand and even some serious potential drop-offs that you likely wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy.

And let’s not forget atmospheric conditions in addition to the driving conditions. Competitors can be in weather in the 70s and 80s one day and be closing in on 30s and 40s a day or two later.

Say hello the 40th annual Dakar Rally, which begins today and continues through Saturday, Jan. 20. The longest and most challenging endurance race in the world is celebrating its 10th anniversary in South America.

And while it is likely said every year, this year’s race could indeed be the most challenging event the Dakar has ever seen.

The race begins today in Lima, Peru, meanders through a good chunk of the rest of Peru for the first six stages, saunters into Bolivia for nearly a week, and eventually into Argentina, where it ends in Cordoba.

There’s no passport checks, TSA checking your luggage, no borders to stop at. But there’s plenty of speeding (and no traffic cops to issue tickets), jumping, climbing and dipping under every possible condition man and machine can handle.

This year’s field consists of 335 vehicles – 139 Bikes, 49 Quads, 103 Cars and SxS and 44 Trucks – and 523 drivers and co-drivers, known as “adventurers.”

As we said, this is arguably the ultimate test of man and machine – and sometimes it becomes a battle of man VS. machine.

The key to winning, regardless of whether you’re on four wheels or two, and whether you’re in a car, quad-runner, motorcycle, SxS or truck, is obviously speed.

But that’s far too often easier said than done.

There’s also staying out of the way of fellow competitors, staying out of harm’s way from track obstacles like large rocks or bottoming out too hard after grabbing air in a long jump.

And there’s also the need to have quick assistance at the ready at almost all times if you are involved in a crash or suffer some type of mechanical malfunction.

Here’s three of the top storylines for fans to follow over the next two weeks:

1) Weather

One four-letter word was cursed thousands of times during last year’s Rally: R-A-I-N.

The wet stuff slowed down several days of racing at times, and ultimately caused one full day of racing to be cancelled because the downpours were incessant and so heavy that it made it impossible for drivers to compete. Rain also forced the significant shortening of the Rally’s longest scheduled day by more than half.

With the return of the Rally to Peru and its sands, beaches and deserts, organizers are hoping rain will be more of an inconvenience rather than an insurmountable obstacle as was the case last year.

The middle section of the Rally, in Bolivia, could be the biggest test of all, weather-wise. The two days of racing last year that were cancelled were in Bolivia.

As a result, Rally organizers have relocated much of the Bolivian segment this year to the southern part of the country, where it’s not so rainy.

Of course, that doesn’t mean rain still won’t happen, but Rally officials appear to have done everything humanly possible to try and mitigate and minimize the impact of weather on the course.

2. One last go-round for Peugeot

Peugeot has had a long and successful run over the years in the Rally.

But that run ends after this year’s Rally, as the French manufacturer has decided to call it quits.

At least part of the reason for Peugeot’s departure from Dakar is the pending retirement of its two key drivers, who are also making their final appearances in the Rally.

Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz are hoping to go out as winners of the bedeviling event.

Peterhansel, 52, is the most successful driver in Rally history, hands down, having won the event 13 times, including last year. He’s not called “Mr. Dakar” for nothing. And don’t be surprised if he goes out a winner two weeks from now.

And then there’s Sainz, otherwise known as “El Matador” for his aggressive driving and, parenthetically taking the bull by the horns when he’s behind the wheel. The 55-year-old driver is reportedly mulling retirement after this year’s race, given Peugeot’s pull-out.

Peterhansel has hinted at retirement, but he may want to try and hook up with another team for next year’s Rally. And what manufacturer wouldn’t want the winningest Driver in Dakar history behind the wheel for them?

3. Is defending champ Sunderland being overlooked?

English bike rider (although he now lives in Dubai) Sam Sunderland, who won the class in last year’s Rally, has been uncharacteristically downplayed by many media and fans heading into this year’s race.

That’s quizzical, as he is one of the most dominant competitors on two wheels. When he won last year’s Rally, Sunderland was looked upon as the next Marc Coma or Cyril Despres, who are Rally legends.

And heading into this year’s Rally, Sunderland, who rides for KTM, has surrounded himself with a strong cast of teammates including 2016 Rally Bike winner Toby Price, 2017 runner-up Matthias Walkner and well-known endure rider Antoine Meo.

But as we kick off the race today, Sunderland is being overlooked in favor of Joan Barreda, who has won 18 stages in the Rally since it moved to South America.

Still, Barreda has never earned a win, let alone an appearance on the podium since first entering the Rally in 2012.

The 34-year-old Spanish rider suffered two serious injuries after last year’s Rally: he broke his collarbone in March 2017 and four months later, broke his wrist badly enough that he required surgery.

So as the green flag drops today for the next 14 days, it’s looking more and more likely that it will be Barreda vs. Sunderland for the master of two wheels.

Keep an eye on this class and particularly this battle between the two riders. It could be one of the most exciting parts of the entire Rally.

GoDaddy to sponsor Patrick in ‘Danica Double’ at Daytona, Indy — now all she needs are rides

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By The Associated Press

Danica Patrick is going back to green.

GoDaddy Green, to be exact – a fitting color for her farewell tour.

The company will sponsor Patrick in the upcoming “Danica Double” that will close out her racing career, The Associated Press has learned. Patrick has no ride yet for next month’s Daytona 500 or the Indianapolis 500 in May, but she now has the financial backing to pull it off.

This time around, the original GoDaddy Girl will symbolize the new core mission of the company that helped make her one of the world’s most recognizable athletes.

“There’s this great story: I left IndyCar with GoDaddy on my car, I started NASCAR with GoDaddy on my car, I’m most recognized as the GoDaddy green car and driver, and so to finish up my career that way feels appropriate,” Patrick told the AP from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Her final race will be the Indy 500, an appropriate choice because it was “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” that rocketed Patrick and GoDaddy into pop culture notoriety.

GoDaddy and Patrick grew up together. The company switched series with her and marketed her as a strong, sexy woman in 13 Super Bowl commercials – a record appearance for celebrities. Now, the company is most interested in Patrick the budding businesswoman who is firmly closing the door on her racing career and rebranding herself as an entrepreneur . She has a book out, an apparel line, a wine label and confirmed to AP this week that she’s dating Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“Our goals are so well-aligned,” Barb Rechterman, the chief marketing officer of GoDaddy, told AP. “She’s passionate, tenacious and creative just like so many of our customers who are also looking to leverage the power of the internet and turn their `side hustle’ into a full-time business. Danica absolutely epitomizes the heart of our GoDaddy customers.”

Prepare to hear a lot about the “side hustle” as GoDaddy climbs aboard the so-far fledgling “Danica Double.”

Patrick announced in November she would end her driving career with the Daytona 500 and Indy 500, but didn’t have a deal completed for either race. Still doesn’t. Yet somehow, Patrick always figures a way to get what she wants. Talks ended with Chip Ganassi Racing about a possible ride, and late last month, Patrick said, she called former GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons and asked about a reunion.

GoDaddy has rebranded since it last teamed with Patrick. The company now touts itself as “the world’s largest cloud platform dedicated to small, independent ventures,” and there’s no better spokeswoman than Patrick, who is in the next chapter of her life and her brand.

GoDaddy pulled out of racing after the 2015 season, and Patrick hasn’t had the same level of funding and marketing support since. Patrick has slowly reshaped her image, first into a Instagram model and is now a full-blown lifestyle guru. She realized – at the age of 35 – she was on her own.

She and GoDaddy aligned for a splashy move into NASCAR, where she was glamorous off the track but only mediocre on it. Through all of this, she was married, divorced, spent five years dating fellow driver and competitor Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and then seemed to find herself through a tailored diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

She is cutting the cord on racing after Indy, and her focus is on a sense of well-being far away from the track.

“Their business is so perfectly paired to what is going on with mine, so when we sat down and met, it was like, `Let’s talk about our business. Let’s talk about the messaging. How does this work?”‘ Patrick said. “And this is undeniably perfect for both of us. Not only is it a huge two races and the biggest two races of the year, but on top of that, you have so much `side hustle’ going on, and all the messaging and our brands, and where we are going is so perfectly paired.”w

GoDaddy can help Patrick move on to whatever it is for racing’s former “It Girl.” The company will help her streamline her online presence. Patrick, for the company, is back as a neon green-and-yellow symbol to all the wannabe entrepreneurs chasing dreams.

She’ll get those rides, too. Patrick said she knows she will because she believes she will.

“That’s just the way the universe works,” she said. “You have to ask for what you want. Things have taken a long time with this, but you just have to go with the flow on these things. The universe is not on your time schedule.”

More AP auto racing: https://racing.ap.org/