Tiny Panda joins giants to finish 2017 Dakar

  • Giant-killer Fiat mini makes the finish 
  • Meet PandaKar – mighty midget of rally
  • Where it finished, who cares? Just that it did!
Fiat Panda completes 2017 Dakar Rally Image: Fiat
JUST TWO AND A CREW: A tiny Fiat Panda, modified to handle the harsh reality of deserts and mountains and rebadged as the PanDakar, completed the 2017 Dakar Rally. Image: Fiat

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – A tiny Fiat Panda has made history by simultaneously becoming the first Italian car, the first Fiat car and the first utility car derived from a standard vehicle to complete the most Dakar Rally.

Despite the appalling weather that beset the 2017 event the little the PanDakar – it’s only 3.8m long – successfully completed every stage of the race that this year ran Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay.

The PanDakar was created for the race from a Fiat Panda utility, entered by the Orobica Raid team, and was one of the 53 of 93 teams which to complete the race  over harsh terrain and scorching deserts.

Fiat Panda completes 2017 Dakar Rally Image: Fiat
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH… the tiny Fiat PanDakar proved it could handle it in the 2017 Dakar Rally Image: Fiat

The little Fiat started life as  a Fiat Panda 4×4 Cross fitted with an absolutely standard 135kW HP 2.0 Multijet engine and a few changes made to enable the little utility vehicle withstand the race’s extreme demands.

EXPERIENCE DRIVING TEAM

Credit for the PanDakar’s amazing achievement, Fiat said, goes to the Orobica Raid team formed in 2008 and led by Giulio Verzeletti, a specialist in long-distance raids such as the Dakar. All his team members are experienced drivers who in total have raced in more than 40 Daakrs.  Dakar (http://www.pandakar.it/).

Verzeletti has driven motorbikes, cars and trucks in 15 Dakars and Antonio Cabini 20 on motorbikes and in cars and trucks – they drove the PanDakar while relying on Nicola Montecchio, who managed the entire engine preparation side, especially the features needed to overcome the high altitudes reached, and maintained it for long stretches of the event.

READ MORE Fiat features on Carman’s Corner

The 12 stages of the 2017 Dakar ran through Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay for a total of almost 9000km, more than 4000 km of that the exhausting special stages. The PanDakar had to overcome plenty of challenges: seven special stages were more than 400km long – one of more than 500km; car and crew had to deal with the problems caused by the shortage of oxygen at altitudes which never fell below 3500m as they drove for 2200km over five days.

Temperatures often exceeded 40C and, when combined with the incredibly variable weather, put a strain on both the mechanical strength of the PanDakar and the physical resilience of its crew.

WATCH how a mystery woman saved a Dakar competitor’s race…

The key characteristics that make the Fiat Panda Cross agile and easy to drive, starting from its compact size (it’s Europe’s best-selling 4×4), were fundamental to the PanDakar’s success in the 2017 Dakar – as well as its ability to deal with any terrain and weather.

Fiat Panda completes 2017 Dakar Rally Image: Fiat
TOUGH LITTLE GUY: The Fiat PanDakar at speed on one of the long sandy sections of the 2017 Dakar Rally Image: Fiat

These features – along with the versatility of its five doors and modular interior, its comfort and its engine efficiency (and four fuel options in the ordinary world) – explain why the Panda was Europe’s best-selling city car in 2016 with more than 190 000 registrations.

The Panda was Italy’s best-selling car for a fifth consecutive year ,  topping the A segment in Italy, Greece and Serbia. It also ranked among the top three in Spain, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Switzerland.

FOUR FUEL CHOICES

“The fuel combinations provided by any of its petrol, diesel, natural gas and LPG engines, alongside its two 4×4 versions,” Fiat says, “make it the perfect choice for all uses and any requirements from the urban slalom to coping with snow.”

And, as January 2017 proved crossing mountain ranges and deserts.

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