Pharaons Rally, Egypt
Day 2 Tibniya-Tibniya 346km
After losing some 20 minutes with a technical problem yesterday there was only one thing that Jean-Louis Schlesser could do today and that was to go flat out... and with a time almost 10 minutes faster than anyone else that's exactly what he did. “All the way, very fast,” he said as the mechanics blew the layer of dust that covered everything on the car.
“And tomorrow will be the same as for me and Kalifa Al-Mutaiwei as we both have to win because who wins here wins the championship. After this race there is the Portalegre 500 in Portugal but it's not a strong race for either of us as the locals are so good there.”
Tomorrow should be different!
It wasn't just outright speed that saw the Frenchman they call the Desert Fox cut the lead back from over 20 to just 5'40 it was also thanks to some bad luck for UAE MINI All4 driver Al-Mutaiwei. By the time I'd got to camp he'd already left for his hotel but his friendly engineer Tobias Mederer had a couple of minutes for me. “He had a slow puncture in the dunes,” he explained. “They got out to check and saw that it needed to be changed but he had to drive 6km on the flat to get to a place where it was safe to jack the car up. Tomorrow should be different!”
A fine 2nd in the stage was ex-moto rider Parick Sireyjol in his SMG Buggy. Yesterday he stopped to help Schlesser out of the dunes but today they were rivals again. “Jean-Louis started 4 minutes behind us but took 150km to catch us, which is good for us. But once he got passed it was too hard to keep up with him as the top speed of the buggy is 155 or 160km. Also today wasn't really my favourite stage. I like the harder, technical stuff and the soft sand, but driving down through the big valley with the mountains on either side was really beautiful.”
I asked if he'd be happy to finish 3rd behind Al-Mutaiwei and Schlesser. “Well, I would like 1st,” he laughed. “I used to be a moto rider so have a good feeling for the tracks so that is strength of mine but after tomorrow's big stage we'll see. Schlesser is only 1.58 ahead.”
...And talking about the Dakar... Over in the Kazakhstan camp is Artur Ardavichus and if you think you might have heard the name before... he was top KAMAZ finisher in last year's Dakar truck class with 3rd overall. Now he's in charge of developing a big new Kazakhstani team with 3 cars going to the Africa Eco Race and 2 to the Dakar. “The car is all new,” he said. “The chassis is made by Mebar in Dubai and it's based on a Toyota Hi-Lux shell.
Yesterday Jean-Louis Schlesser came to look at it and said 'Wow'. The car is very new, in fact this is it's first race ad also the drivers are not so experienced so I am out in the stages all day watching them to see how they are doing, see how I can advise them to improve and we're also seeing how the car can perform... and we can already say that it's a good car!”
As I write this the drivers are all in the big tent listening to the briefing and they are listening carefully as the organisers started it by saying, “We need to warn you, tomorrow is the hardest, most difficult and longest...” It's 426km long and has a bit of everything. Actually it would be better to say that it has a lot of everything! The two at the top of the leaderboard are also at the top of championship and if either makes a mistake tomorrow it could have serious consequences for the championship.