Arica: bye, bye Colombia
They arrived at the bivouac all smiles: Juan-Manuel Linares and Camilo Perdomo had just withdrawn from the rally, but were feeling the magic of the Dakar. "We'll be coming back next year," claimed the only two Colombian representatives. And that is all in spite of what happened on stage 5: their race assistance vehicle crashed and rolled and everything went pear-shaped from there onward. In helping their assistance partners, they did not pay attention to the deteriorating light and were surprised by nightfall. Juan-Manuel is categorical: "Driving in the night in the dunes is like entering the house of the devil". In the end, they slept out in the cold, without food or sleeping bags, reaching the bivouac at Iquique at 7 AM, just in time to set off again. They finished their race 150 km later, due to a broken clutch. "We came here to learn and that's what we've done. In our country, there are no dunes," points out Camilo. Apart from this slight detail, crew No. 429 nevertheless has an interesting claim to fame: "We are the first to have reached the Amazon setting out from Bogota, via Puerto Ordaz in Venezuela, then Boavista and Manaus in Brazil. That was in 2005," explains Juan-Manuel with a distracted air, already turning his thoughts to the next Dakar.
Safety Center: looking after safety on the Dakar
He went straight to see them on entering the bivouac. Without getting off his bike, David Barrot, No. 35, launched into a tirade straight away: "At the start of the special the screen went black, then it started working, then it stopped again..." The team-mate of Viladoms and Helder Rodrigues is worried that his way points have not been validated. Opposite stand the guys from the Safety Center, who are responsible for installing, verifying and repairing this embedded electronic device that has changed the life of the Dakar, optimising the safety of the participants. To ensure the smooth running of the Sentinel system (for in-race overtaking), the GPS (way points, speed checks) and the Iritrack (geo-localisation by satellite), each year A.S.O. commissions two firms who send 6 and 7 technicians respectively for work that starts even before the Dakar kicks off. "We checked everything before boarding of the vehicles in Le Havre, then again in Buenos Aires to check that the ocean air hadn't altered anything," says Cedric Poulmaire, one of the managers along with Cesar Rodriguez. The life of these disciples of safety can be summed up by round the clock availability, often including sleepless nights, sometimes a few hours sleep, more often than not a little rest during the transfer from one bivouac to another. Their mission begins at the start of the specials whilst one team heads for the following bivouac, where they must be to check the GPS and transmit any possible irregularities to the race officials. From the start of the 33rd Dakar to Arica, 200 interventions have been made on the Iritrack and 300 for the GPS and Sentinel. "We never have any problems. Five or six years ago, they weren't interested. Now they say thank you, because they know that when they press a button, the helicopter will be there very quickly".
Pep Vila, the most Dutch of Catalans
In the world of football, there is a long list of players and trainers who maintain links between Holland and Catalonia: Johan Cruyff, Louis Van Gaal, Ronald Koeman, to name but a few, enjoyed success with Barcelona. In motorsport, Pep Vila has made the return journey to join the De Rooy team this year, a team which is one of the best in the business, behind the Kamaz clan. "It's an opportunity for me to be experience very good competitive conditions," admits the Catalan, who has already finished 7th on the Dakar, in 2009. The images that stick out for Josep after 10 participations are those of his debut in Libya, in Agadez or along the Niger River. "They were different types of Dakar, not necessarily better, but less competitive, that's for sure". Focused on the competition, Pep Vila is obviously sad about the withdrawal of De Rooy: "Gerard is a great driver and he could've put a lot of pressure on the Kamaz team". After problems encountered on the stage leading to Iquique by Hugo Duisters, Pep Vila now finds himself alone on the front line to flay the Dutch flag, which will not, as he readily admits, worry the Russians too much: "It's not just any old team, it's a national team," is his conclusion, faced with the domination of the Kamaz trucks.
Sergio, the man who stared at truckswho
Sergio de la Fuente thought he would not reach the bivouac in Iquique. Ten km from deliverance, the engine on his quad blew. This Uruguayan weight-lifter, many times champion in his home country, several times South American Champion and 6th at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, was convinced his luck had deserted him. A first Dakar is never simple, but his looked to be ending too early. "I thought it was finished, so I watched the trucks drive through the dunes. What a sight! What a wonderful sight!" If there is one thing this easy-going Uruguayan regrets a little, it is that he has not been able to live the event to the full. "There isn't any time to do anything. I don't even realise where I am. I haven't even seen Sainz or Al-Attiyah". Encouraged to take part in the Dakar by Mauro Almeira, for whom he worked as a physical trainer for the rally, he threw himself into the adventure. He is making discoveries all the time and now flies the flag for his team alone, Almeira having withdrawn from the race on stage 4. Absorbed by the jumps of the Kamaz and Tatra trucks, Sergio saw an Argentine quad rider who towed him to the finish. As a result, he canc continue his race, with a distinctive philosophy: "I want to finish, and if I manage to, I won't be coming back".