The Dakar Rally began Saturday with a processional ride through the Argentine city of Mar de Plata, the symbolic start to a 15-day race that will take competitors from the low-lying lands near Argentina's coast through Chile to up to the finish in Andean capital of Peru, Lima.

This is the fourth straight year the event is in South America. After three years of racing on a course that started and ended in Buenos Aires, the race now begins in the Atlantic coastal city of Mar Del Plata with the finish 5,500 miles away on the Pacific coast in Peru.

Saturday's ride does not count in the timed standings. The first official leg is from Mar del Plata to Santa Rosa on Sunday.

Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar, who won last year's car category driving a Volkswagen, is back this year in a Hummer. Defending bike champion Marc Coma of Spain returns with KTM.

Al-Attiyah was one of the last drivers to sign up for the race and has little time to get used to his new vehicle.

"I am comfortable inside this car, I am getting the feel of it," he said. "But I still have to get acquainted with it, so I will play things safe in the first stages and then step things up a notch every day."

His teammate will be American Robby Gordon.

The rally was held in Africa until 2007 but moved for security reasons to South America in 2009. The race was not held in 2008.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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