Midrand – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)Fiat brand played a starring role at the 2017 edition of the world’s toughest race, the Dakar, entering a car closely derived from the multiple award-winning Panda utility cars. 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.
Credit for the PanDakar’s amazing achievement goes to the Orobica Raid team, formed in 2008 and led by Giulio Verzeletti, which specialises in long-distance raids like the Dakar. All team members have experienced drivers, jointly counting over 40 participations in the Dakar (http://www.pandakar.it/). The Italians Giulio Verzeletti – who has driven motorbikes, cars and trucks in 15 Dakar – 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 amazing 2017 Dakar ran through 3 Latin American states – 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 400 km long, including one which was over 500 km; 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 5 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.
These features – along with the versatility of its 5 doors and modular interior, its comfort level and the efficiency of its engines alongside its two 4×4 versions – explain why the Panda was Europe’s best-selling city car in 2016, setting an outstanding sales record with more than 190,000 registrations.