Big names are falling to the wayside as Dakar enters into the fourth and fifth days of action.
With the Andean backdrop the third campsite was another stunning one… except for the bastard sharp little seeds sticking into my feet… and then the news that we’d lost one of the family. 38 year old Michal Henrik was found dead in the stage and that of course cast a pallor over the event. It’s an amazing rally but with a sinking feeling I have to ask is what we’re doing here really worth a life? Everyone who signs up, especially the bikers, know the risk, and the statistics, but still… the Dakar always goes on.
Heading to Chile
Quite bizarrely we got stamped out of Argentina and into Chile in the camp by border guards who’d come especially for the Dakar entourage and then to make the next day’s 600km drive a little easier we drove the first 250km through the night, the Wilderness Lighting bar making the road ahead as light as day. To keep us, most importantly the driver, awake I taught my Lithuanian friends how to play I Spy. Gedmus got me with SS and then we had a discussion about how it is not a shining stripe but a reflecting line that runs down the middle of the road...
At about 3:30am I finally managed to upload my text and because the whole event is going to be like this I give up on trying to get the main news of the top guys as quick as I can. The biggest issue with this is the organisers themselves as they charge an absolutely insane 2300 euros for 2gb of bandwidth… and that’s for the two weeks, not just a day. And even if you buy it doesn’t even work as my friend Klaus found out the other day! So we have been spending the afternoons approaching camp scouring the little villages and fuel stations for wifi. Mostly without success.
Not much rest when you're at the Dakar
We had a glorious 5 hours sleep in some random hotel in a town none of us knew the name of and woke up to the sound of birds singing and V8s passing through the town. I know two words in Lithuanian but could tell something was wrong, mainly because to swear they use Russian words. All the car papers were in the service truck and that was already over the border. Then on the way out the Tripy went off twice in the 50km/h zone. Burning 200 euros on speeding fines before you’re properly awake is not the best way to start the day.
But the landscape we drove through doesn’t let you keep negative thoughts for long. Untold millions of years of tectonic activity have folded the earth like crumpled bedsheets and sedimentary rocks that were once pressed down under a primordial ocean are now jutting out at 90 degrees some 3000 metres high. Valleys of thin grass were home to herds of wild llamas and the odd donkey. According to Gedmus’ Garmin watch the highest point of the road was 4800 metres, so far up that the land was nothing but scorched rocks. The ancient Nazca people laid out the famous lines not so far from here and I think I understand why; this place really is somewhere between the realm of man and his gods.
A couple of hundred kilometres over the border in Chile in a tight valley was the eclectic mix of Toyota’s, MINIs, Peugeots, buggies and other wonderful machines lined up to begin Day 4 of this insane off-road odyssey. The start line was on loose rocks and an incline so while the MINIs and Toyotas shot off the Peugeots and Gordini seemed to struggle to get going. From the driver’s seat of the No 311 Toyota Mark Powell waved, obviously starting to be more relaxed and I found Bryan Garvey for the first time, although he didn’t have time to chat as he was fixing a fuel line issue. Also still going is the No 420 Land Rover!
Today’s bivoauc is in a huge amphitheatre of sandy mountains and dunes and the stage ends just before the camp. The straggling bikers were the first we saw edge over the top and then weave their way down the huge slope but the first car we saw was the Imperial Toyota of Giles de Villiers and the speed he got up to down the face of the mountains dune was absolutely astounding. Free fall down a 1 in 1 slope.
Once he was back in camp and done with official interview duties he told me about his day. “It was hard,” he said. “To start with it was a 6 hour drive at very high altitude which takes a lot out of you and then you have to do a tricky stage that takes a lot of concentration. Orlando Terranova started first but he hit a bank or something and ripped a wheel off, from what I could see. From then on we were opening the road and so lost a couple of minutes to Nasser. It’s 7 ½ now, but we are only four days down, there is another ten to go so that time is nothing.”
Catching up with front-runner debutant Yazeed Al-Rajhi
A guy I was hoping to catch up with for a while is Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi. He was 3rd yesterday… and this is his first Dakar! I asked him what he’d done in his life to prepare him for this. “Well, we have nothing but sand in the Middle East and ever since I was a kid we went camping out in the desert so I drove my old Land Cruiser a lot in the dunes. But my problem now is that a year and a half ago I crashed the Hummer I bought from Robby Gordon and broke my back, so now in the dunes I am always a little scared about what could be just ahead. I started at number 25 so had lots of slower cars in front. On the first day there was no possibility to overtake, on Day 2 I was behind Robby Gordon for 100km and yesterday I spent 50km behind Vladimir Vasiliev and he wouldn’t move over. Today we were free and were leading on every CP until we got to the dunes. There I was a little easy and in the 70km lost a few minutes, but for me it’s best to take it easy there.”
Being swamped by fans was the amicable Nasser Al-Attiyah, who took another couple of minutes out of de Villiers to extend his lead. “I was quite happy to win the stage and now we don’t have to go flat out, I can just manage the time now and just go day to day without problems. I am happy that we are going without problems.”
Because I was early in camp I wanted to get to speak with the Peugeot guys before they head off to their hotels. I am used to wondering around X-Raid and Overdrive with my notebook and camera but the French team is a little different. No access to drivers in service, you wait in line for some guy in a white shirt to tell you that you should just wait for the official press release later.
Benediktas Vanagas endures another day
Benediktas Vanagas of the General Finance – Autopaslauga - Pitlane team pulled into the service park and was all smiles as he clasped the hands of his mechanics. “It was a tough day. To start with driving 600km at 4800m was hard. I had such a bad headache that I had to take a pill for it, but then on the other side we came down again and it felt better. In the start of the stage there were lots of rocks and we had a puncture. That is normal in the Dakar but putting the wheel back on we damaged the studs and had to stop again to check that it was alright. Loose a wheel and you loose the rally. The dunes at the end of the stage were great. Coming down into the big drop before the campsite were in a race with an Iveco and a buggy and I feel happy because we won that battle!”
The camp is relaxed, there’s nothing major that needs doing on Benediktas’ Toyota, apart from replacing a couple of studs. Another stage done successfully.
Tomorrow we go north and will see the Pacific ocean for the first time which means that we have crossed the continent. Nobody has a plan, nobody has wifi, everybody is living the dream to be here!