Despite an available ALL4 all-wheel drive, the MINI Countryman isn't necessarily the most ideal car to take off road – unless of course it's outfitted for Dakar dominance. Last year's event saw the Countryman taking home the top spot and four other top-ten finishes, with the overall victory secured by French driver Stéphane Peterhansel in his 10th career Dakar win. The Monster X-Raid Team has prepared the Countryman to defend its strong performance at last year's Dakar Rally .

Apparently, reaching double digits didn't quite satiate Peterhansel's appetite for victory. He will be back to defend his title at Dakar 2013 piloting one of four MINI ALL4 Racing cars that X-raid will run in this year's rally.

Standing in Peterhansel and Co's way is a new 4,970-mile (8,000-km) course expected to be the most difficult ever seen in South America. Over the course of 14 days, drivers will engage with the harsh, unforgiving ground of three countries (Peru, Argentina and Chile) – from some of the driest desert on Earth to the Andes Mountains and beyond. This year's rally is the first to begin in the middle of the desert, essentially throwing drivers right into the thick of things.

Each X-raid driver will benefit from a thoroughly vetted MINI ALL4 Racing car, a heavily modified Countryman upgraded for the rigors of the Dakar course. In addition to sporting ALL4 all-wheel drive, the race-ready Countryman has a new rear spoiler designed to increase downforce and ventilation, six-point harnesses over the top of the Recaro motorsport seats, and an Original MINI Accessories kit that protects the car from rocky projectiles on the aprons and side skirts. Each car is painted in new high-visibility colors.

The ALL4 racer is powered by a 300-hp 3.0-liter BMW twin-turbo diesel engine. That diesel grinds out 514 lb-ft of torque at 2,100 rpm, a reserve of twist that will be important on the loose, shifty ground of Dakar. MINI lists the top speed at 110 mph (178 km/h).

Peterhansel and team won't have to wait long to get their shot at glory. The 35th Dakar Rally begins this Saturday, January 5, in Lima, Peru. Peterhansel will be joined again by co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret, who was part of last year's victory. The other three MINI vehicles will be piloted by Spanish driver Joan ‘Nani’ Roma and co-driver Michel Périn, Russian driver Leonid Novitskiy and co-driver Konstantin Zhiltsov, and Polish driver Krzysztof Holowczyc with co-driver Filipe Palmeiro.

Source: MINI