While the media focus on the Dakar Rally cars, clearly centered on those being piloted by the most competitive teams, namely Peugeot and Toyota (with Mini getting a mention), the Fiat group entered a car Panda 4×4 Cross not too dissimilar from the production model.
The car – which was named PanDakar – is a Fiat Panda 4×4 Cross fitted with a standard powerful yet efficient 132 kW 2.0 Multijet engine, with only a few changes made to enable the little utility vehicle to withstand the race’s extreme demands.
With various vehicles dropping out along the tough course, the Orobica Raid team driving the PanDakar deserve credit: completing a Dakar is a great achievement. The team, formed in 2008 and led by Giulio Verzeletti, specialises in long-distance raids like the Dakar. (http://www.pandakar.it/).
The Italians Giulio Verzeletti – who has driven motorbikes, cars and trucks in 15 Dakar races – and Antonio Cabini – who has participated in the race 20 times, on motorbikes and in cars and trucks – drove the PanDakar through the finish line, relying on the invaluable input of Nicola Montecchio, who successfully managed the entire engine preparation side, especially the features needed to overcome the high altitudes reached and maintained for long stretches of the event.
The 12 stages of the 2017 Dakar ran through three Latin American countries – Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay – for a total distance of almost 9 000 km and over 4 000 km of exhausting special stages.
The PanDakar, the first utility car closely derived from a production vehicle to complete the race, had to overcome plenty of challenges: 7 special stages were more than 400km long, including one which was over 500km; car and crew had to deal with the problems caused by the shortage of oxygen due to the altitude, which never fell below 3 500 metres as they drove for 2 200 km over five days. Moreover, temperatures often exceeding 40° Celsius, combined with the incredibly variable weather, put a strain on both the mechanical strength of the PanDakar and the physical resilience of its crew.
The key characteristics that make the Fiat Panda Cross agile and easy to drive, starting from its compact size (it is Europe’s best-selling 4×4 less than 3.8 metres in length), were fundamental to the PanDakar’s amazing result in the 2017 Dakar Rally, thanks to its outstanding ability to deal with any terrain and weather conditions.
The Fiat Panda was Europe’s best-selling city car in 2016, setting an outstanding sales record with more than 190 000 registrations.