Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day
Wednesday January 10, 2007

Jerome Bonfils - Pierre Paul Chanoine: L'entente cordiale

Anglo -- French relations have had their ups and downs over the years. The burning of Joan D'Arc was without doubt a low point, but on the 2007 Dakar at least it would seem all has been forgiven, with numerous privateer French car entrants opting to buy British. Take Jerome Bonfils for example, who for 2007 has chosen to race a Rallye-Raid UK built Desert Warrior. You might think it was the chance to travel to the UK and sample that country's world famous cuisine that influenced Jerome's choice. Or maybe he just wanted a chance to practise his English. According to Jerome however neither factor influenced his choice. "Put simply the car is fun to drive, reliable and good value for money. It has a tubular space frame that is very solid and a nice reliable BMW turbo diesel engine. As far as communicating is concerned, with their bad French and our bad English we get by." There are however limits as to how far Jerome is willing to go in the name of 'entente cordiale'. "I come from a wine growing region of France and as much as I appreciate Rallye-Raid's work there is no chance I am going to start drinking warm brown beer any day soon."

Shusei Yamada: "Finishing the Dakar on bio-diesel"

Shusei Yamada knows the Dakar like the tracks of his tires. Though , for his 22nd participation, he still has the first ones in mind. A keen and professional photographer, the Japanese driver took part in the 1983 edition of the Dakar in a press vehicle. "It was at the time of the pioneers, with Thierry Sabine. After an initial experience, I asked if I could cover it by motorbike as a journalist. It changed my life. After that, I enrolled as a competitor in 1989, but it didn't go very well. I had a very serious accident and couldn't walk for two years".

Since then, Yamada has got his own back on fate and finished the Dakar in 1991. In particular, this insatiable firebrand has done a round the world trip on a motorbike. In total, he has taken his two-wheeler through 140 countries. However, a different worldwide project has led him to this year's Dakar, but behind the wheel of a car. This first step with the Senegalese capital as destination is also a way of launching his militant challenge and underlining his commitment to environmental-friendliness: "I'm going to try to be the first person to finish the Dakar behind the wheel of a vehicle running on bio-fuel. I want to show that the future of driving can also involve means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. What's more, the car's bodywork is partly made out of bio-plastics, which are Kenaf resin based". For the moment, despite a delay due to a puncture that caused him to lose control of his vehicle and being an hour off the lead in the general rankings, Yamada is carrying on going: "My whole trip is more than 100,000 kilometres long. I'm still a long way from the end; it's more than ten as long as the Dakar".

Ruben Marcelo Miti: "The Dakar is even harder than I expected"

On arrival at Foum-Zguid, Marcelo Miti is not in a mood for talking. His face is dusty, he is moving tiredly and has a far off gaze in his eyes. The fact that he has already arrived at the bivouac during the middle of the day whilst dozens of other bikers are still struggling with the first marathon stage does not help him brighten up. His first Dakar is really tough, especially since he is not satisfied with his machine: "It's like I'm fighting with my bike. I've got a problem with the rear suspension and I'm not able to ride confidently". In short, one of the two Argentines on the rally, alongside OrlandoTerranova, is not happy. Furthermore, the bivouac, somewhere in the middle of nowhere between Er Rachidia and Ouarzazate, is worrying him a bit: "Where will we sleep? Are there blankets for us?"

If truth be told, he is missing his Argentine rally: "I'll do Las Pampas every year, without a doubt. I'm not so sure about the Dakar". In fact, discovering the number one rally-raid is turning out to be a daily surprise for this native of Buenos Aires. "I wasn't expecting all this", he admits, now sat in his tent with his meal tray. "Scrutineering was very stressful. There's also the language barrier. I'm a bit overwhelmed and all on my own. As for the race, it's very hard, but I knew that before I got here. When you actually experience it, it's even harder. The best way of doing it would be to come with a team to be able to concentrate on racing".

Marcelo is perhaps already thinking of his next Dakar. It would be a genuine surprise if he does not accept this challenge. It will not be the first he has dealt with, after all. In particular, Marcelo has taken over the reins of the family farm. In Argentina, this often means a large-scale operation: in his case, it means 5,000 head of cattle and 200,000 hens. The farm is called "Estancia El Visnal" at a distance of 200 kilometres from Cordoba and, more importantly, 30 kilometres from the nearest village. It is not great for a social life, but much more advantageous for a motorbike fanatic, allowing him to fine-tune his profile as a two-wheeled warrior. Ruben Marcelo had to wait a very long time for that to happen: he only really took off as a rider at the age of 27, restricted by his responsibilities and pressure from his family, postponing his debut. Nonetheless, after around ten years behind the handlebars, he has taken part in plenty of competitions, with plenty of good results, in Argentina and Spain. His clear aim is to complete the rally so he can be, along with Orlando Terranova perhaps, the only Argentine to have made it to the Pink Lake.

Ronn Bailey: "In time for the ferry to Morocco !"

"All I want to do is get to Dakar," Ronn Bailey will declare to anybody willing to listen, but even that 'modest' ambition is proving difficult to achieve. "We were going really well on the first stage in Portugal and then the car stopped with a broken alternator. We got running again only to rip off our inflation system when we got too close to a truck." Ronn's car broke down again on the liaison but he still managed to get into the parc fermé just ahead of his deadline.

The second Portuguese special went without incident only for the buggy to roll on the highway heading for Malaga. "We had to take evasive action to avoid hitting a local driver and went into a series of rolls. The car was very badly damaged but our assistance managed to get us going again and we just made it in time for the ferry to Morocco".

With the car badly in need of an overhaul Ronn was nursing it through the first Moroccan stage when the belt drive to the power steering snapped. "It is easy to replace but very hard to get to and in all cost us one and a half hours. Hopefully we have got all our bad luck out the way and can have a trouble free run to the final finish line. Just a couple of days without incident would be nice..."

-credit: dakar.com