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Dakar Rally racers start grueling trek

Spain's driver Carlos Sainz waves from his Volkswagen on the podium during the start of the Dakar 2011 Rally.
Spain's driver Carlos Sainz waves from his Volkswagen on the podium during the start of the Dakar 2011 Rally.
  • Spectators cheer off participants at the start of the 2011 Dakar Rally in Buenos Aires
  • A total of 407 vehicles start the race which lasts 15 days and covers 9,500 kilometers
  • Racers will cover 13 stages in both Argentina and Chile
  • Carlos Sainz
  • Argentina
  • Dakar
  • Mark Miller
  • Nasser Al-Attiyah
  • Spain
  • Volkswagen AG

(CNN) -- Thousands of spectators turned out to cheer on competitors in the 2011 Dakar Rally as the historic race got underway in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Saturday.

The 15-day race will see 407 vehicles (of 430 original entries) embark on a grueling 13 stages and attempt to cover a distance of 9,500 kilometers (5,900 miles), before crossing the finish line back in the Argentine capital on January 15.

A total of 140 cars, 170 motorbikes, 67 lorries and 30 quadbikes started stage one of the race from the Buenos Aires' Avenue of July 9. All competitors are heading northwest to Victoria, in the Argentine province of Entre Rios, 377 kilometer (234 miles) away.

The race will begin in earnest on Sunday with the second stage to Cordoba.

Racers will cross the border into Chile on Wednesday heading north towards the border with Peru before heading back south through the Andes mountains and on to the Atacama Desert.

From there, they will head east and back into Argentina for the closing stages of the race.

Fear and loathing in South America

The rally which began in 1978 was traditionally held in Europe and Africa. But after concerns about terrorism forced the cancellation of the 2008, the rally was relocated to Argentina and Chile the following year.

Last year's winner in the car race, Spain's Carlos Sainz -- driving for Volkswagen Motorsport -- is back to defend his title, but he'll face a stiff challenge from the likes of Nasser al-Attiyah from Qatar and Mark Miller from the United States.

But the Spaniard and former double world rally champion remains undaunted by the competition.

"I'll only be thinking about how I'm going to race and to do my job well. As usual, I'll be racing at my pace and in my own special way," Sainz told on Friday.

Meanwhile in the motorcycle race, France's Cyril Despres will be hoping to successfully defend the title he claimed in 2010.