Dakar: Letka Racing update 2005-01-11

Mira Martinec - Message from Atar Atar 9.1.2005 Greetings to all fans and friends of our team and apologies that I'm sending my first report when the race is practically half way behind us. Believe me, it's not from being lazy but this year...

Mira Martinec - Message from Atar
Atar 9.1.2005

Greetings to all fans and friends of our team and apologies that I'm sending my first report when the race is practically half way behind us. Believe me, it's not from being lazy but this year we've put on start two vehicles and was making us really busy in bivak. Right now there is only one TATRA left but anyway - the circumstances of last few days had always prevented me to get in to the news-media tent here on time.

But let's start from the beginning. I presume you are following the rallye ...but the result-wise I'll try to give you some inside information. I'll start with the stage from Agadir to Smara. A classic Morocco stage -- still not too long, even though a very rocky one -- the one we call a 'car beater'. We -- in Andre's TATRA have started behind Tomas Tomecek and I can tell you that right from beginning I've been pleasantly surprised by the style of Andre's driving ( and I still am ). Simply put ... going was good ...and with the right tempo. We were closing in to first CP ( Control Point ) and suddenly we see Tom's truck standing.

Tomas was just running around it and then went under (to check up on fuel tanks -- as he told me later). We have stopped but it looked like they didn't have a time to pay us any attention and didn't even say if they need any help. After a little while we were on our way again and came through finish in the same good tempo without problems which unfortunately couldn't be said about Tom. Once I said jokingly that based on the experiences of last years our team could modify well known saying: "Harder on the training field, Easier on the battle field" into 'Hard on the training field, Hard on the battle field'.

Unfortunately my words came truth already in Agadir. Well...our truck was OK other then the slight air loss during the stage. But together with Brazilian mechanic Ronaldo we took care of this and the maintenance pretty quickly. On Tom's truck there was more work though. The problem Tom had on the race course that day was of electrical nature -- an alternator and the accumulators had to be changed. They've done it successfully with Peter Vodak and Vojta Moravek. We were helping them at the end as a matter of fact, but at this time most of the work had been already done and Tom could put his vehicle at the next morning start with no problem at all. So we all thought at least ...

The next morning we were starting earlier and I still have the picture before my eyes when we were leaving: Tom, behind the wheel of his truck, worming up the engine, saying Hi to us - thumbs up. And was also the last time I saw him at this year's Dakar. I think he'll probably let you know all about it himself but from what I've heard his transmission betrayed him right before the very start, so called -- down gear; means he could switch only up to 4th gear. They've tried to fix it but to no avail and the only thing left to do was to turn back and go home. From what I know about Tom, and you who also know him will agree with me that it was a problem unfixable at the spot. BecauseTom simply never gives up. He had ended in the race but in my book finished at the top. When I found out about it back in bivak it was the first time in Dakar I almost felt like crying.

Well ...what can you do ... such is the life and this is THE Dakar. We kept going ahead but we are also going for Tom and his crew. The stage was from Zouerat to Tichit -- 660 km long, the longest one this year. So we've filled up both our fuel tanks to the top, or at least we thought we did. See the diesel is foaming and if you wait a while you could put about thirty more liters into each tank. And that was about what was missing later on. Let it be as an excuse to us (and for that matter to the half of the starting field also) that neither itinerary or the race directors warned anyone about degree of the stage severe difficulties. Except for the short 'pista' at the beginning it was all sand, either the camel grass or dunes. Let me get little ahead but later on I counted that our fuel consumption that day averaged about 115 liters/ 100 km. For us the stage was unfolding pretty well. We knew there was a treacherous solisk around the 115th kilometer. Before we found it though, we were in it. Luckily unlike Karel Loprais we didn't sank in but with under inflated tires got through,ours asses all tight. For the peace of mind and clean consciousness I must add that as much as we wanted to help Karel we just couldn't because we knew we would got stuck in too. Going ahead we had passed four out of six trucks that had started before us this morning. And that included Cagin who was shooting for the overall victory right from the very beginning. We kept moving through the seemingly unending sand dunes and quite bothersome camel grass knowing only Kabirov is ahead of us. Watching the fuel consumption periodically we were pretty sure we'd make it. Especially when roughly 100 km before the finish an easy part with relatively hard surface came up. But at the same time we knew the last 70 km will be that stupid camel grass again. And there it was.

Well .. jumping on it back and forth we couldn't wait for the end. But it was not to be that day ... the fuel gage was dead on empty and we kept hoping that by some grace of God there is still some diesel left in the tanks. Our hopes were not fulfilled. Exactly 41 km before the finish line the sound of the engine finally and definitely died out and we found ourselves surrounded by silence of the desert . At this moment we've probably didn't fully realized the seriousness of the whole situation because our state of mind was to act as quick as possible. I've jumped to the back of the truck released the oil canisters (we keep two of them) pouring out the one that was less than half full into the sand. Then from the air pressure bags used to lifting up the truck we removed the hose ready to repump much needed diesel fuel (aprox. 40 liters would bring us to the finish) from anyone who would show up.

But except few motorcycles no one drove by. After about an hour we saw the lights of the trucks. It was Hans Bekx. His eyes wide open in terror from watching out his own fuel gage. He couldn't give us a drop. (I've met him today in bivak he was really sorry and I found out he finished with 5 liters left). You know ... 5 liters would be more than enough for whole day driving on my little Vespa back home but for the 800 HP Dakar truck, well.... that's a different story.

So we were standing there in the desert after Hans Bekx drove away knowing with each passing hour that no one will simply give us any fuel. We kept trying it from 7pm (that's when we got stranded) till midnight and if anyone stopped the answer was always the same -- we are afraid that we won't make it ourselves. So we laid down to at least get some sleep ... and had no idea that all together we'll spend there in that desert 20 hours.

Only the evening following day we got about 40 L of diesel from the broken up car that was being towed behind this 'quick-assistance' truck. All too late but finally still we've started towards the finish line. Along the way we've met the organizers' pickups looking for those in need of help. From them we got additional 20 liters just to make sure we'll make it to the settlement of Tichit. If I would have to describe this place to you in one sentence I'd say: at the end of the world. Got it? If not here is the clue -- Tichit itself is still about 220 kilometers behind this settlement. The English or Americans have the exact expression for this: ... "In the middle of nowhere". But waiting for us there was a life giving 600 liters of diesel fuel and the food that we haven't seen for more than 30 hours. We've found out the next stage to Tidjigji was canceled and we'll get a large penalization for not finishing. But if we'll make it to Tidjigji in time for the start of the next stage they'll let us continue. So we had begin to drive arriving to Tidjigji at 3 o'clock on the morning after about 6 hours of tiring bumpy ride. Soon as we got there Ronaldo got up to help me with necessary maintenance after which we laid down to get at least four hours of sleep. Anyway, thanks to our time penalty we couldn't start earlier than shortly before the noon, but well driving Andre made again a good time and when we got here to Atar yesterday we were the 6 th.

Today was a day off so Ronaldo, me and Peter Vodak looked the whole vehicle over changing all the filters and shocks. Aside from welding the broken door brackets in the back that was all for today. The truck is holding great and we are ready to keep fighting again. Even though we've lost the chance for better than good result you can rest assured we'll be not giving up. Because the pressure from most of the racers there was a glimmer of hope the race directors may allow to recognize the second CP times as a final results of the stage to Tichit. That would put us up into second place well ahead of Hans Bexk. But no luck ... as Andre put it -- they don't want to make dangerous precedents for the upcoming years with their decision, that's the reason the organizers are so strict. Well ... too bad ...

They say that one should learn from every situation. As for me, this is a great lesson of humility. That's when I was sitting in the desert sand and felt like a mountain climber who must turn back few steps away from the very top. Believe me, it's not easy to accept it, but on the other hand I'm still grateful for the lesson. And if I take it from the other side, our problems are completely trivial comparing to what people in South East Asia must go through right now.

Tomorrow we'll be at the start of the loop style stage: Atar -- Atar, that one should be supposedly one of the most difficult ones in the whole rallye. A lots of the sand and dunes. So we paid an extra attention to refueling and are ready to go for it. I really hope that after crossing the finish line I'll have some time to share my experiences with you.

For now I wish you good night or nice day and thank you in the name of our whole team for your support.

-lrt-

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Series DAKAR