Africa, here we come... A rather special day on the Telefonica Dakar rally because it will be spent on water. On the boat they boarded in Valencia on Friday evening, the competitors are on their way to Africa via the Mediterranean sea for a 36...
Africa, here we come...
A rather special day on the Telefonica Dakar rally because it will be spent on water. On the boat they boarded in Valencia on Friday evening, the competitors are on their way to Africa via the Mediterranean sea for a 36 hour cruise. Time for all to take a well deserved rest after the first three stages in Europe and prepare for the toughest part of the race with desert, sand and dunes on the tracks of Tunisia, Lybia and Egypt. In the car category Mitsubishi's Stephane Peterhansel leads the race ahead of team-mate Hiroshi Masuoka. Richard Sainct heads the KTM armada in front of Alfie Cox.
While some like Richard Sainct (KTM n.3) will be spending most of the boat liaison to Tunisia sleeping: "Siesta, sleep and siesta" as the Frenchman admitted before boarding, others like Ari Vatanen (Nissan - n.204) will take the time to think about their life as a normal human being.
"On the boat, I will start writing a book that will be published in England and talks about my first years in rally driving an Escort. I also took quite a few books: one on global civilisation, one on how to be a good husband, and one on how to be a good father. I'll have a lot of work on the boat."
During the two nights and one day journey that takes the Dakar caravan to North Africa, a lot will have in mind the fantastic European atmosphere in Marseille, Narbonne and Castellon but also the difficult stages to come. The race is on...
"This rally is an African rally not a European rally. From now we start the Dakar!". The words of Japan's Kenjiro Shinozuka (Nissan - n.201) say it all. Only 51kms of special have been covered out of 8602 of the entire rally. The gaps between the main contenders in the overall standings are now counted in seconds. In a few days, we'll be talking about minutes and possibly more.
On two wheels, Sainct's lead on Alfie Cox (KTM - n.2) is of 10 tiny seconds. On the short very technical specials of France and Spain, last year's winner Fabrizio Meoni (KTM - n.1) lost a total of 1min48s. Time that the Italian could well have soon in his favour thanks to the power of his twin-cylinder bike.
In the car category, the battle between Mitsubishi and Nissan is as mouthwatering as expected. So far Peterhansel (Mitsubishi - n.206) and Masuoka (Mitsubishi n.200) have the edge on the Nissan boys although newcomer Giniel De Villiers is only 38sec adrift in third spot.
"The car is 100% fine, in very good condition. The race only starts in Africa and we'll take it stage by stage. Objective: Sharm El Sheikh."
And while the South African is looking forward to a first experience in the desert, others will unfortunately not see Egypt ...or even Africa. On stage 2 between Narbonne and Castellon, the youngest pilot of the field, 20 year old Nicolas Misslin (Mitsubishi - n.233) crashed out of the rally. Father Christian (Mitsubishi - n.288) then decided to follow his son back home to Marseille. The same kind of drama could have happened to Syndiely Wade (Nissan - n.277), daughter of Senegal's president, who after flipping over in the Castellon special, found herself back on four wheels and was able to finish the stage and board the boat to Tunis.
All 51 trucks however will make it to Africa where the battle for leadership promises to be oustanding. The De Rooy pair leading the standings although son Gerardus (DAF - n.414) insists his only goal if to get to Sahrm El Sheikh "first or last", he doesn't care. Johannes' (DAF - n.409) will find harsh opposition in Africa against the Tatra of Loprais (n.408) and the Kamaz of Tchaguine (n.407).
While the competitors prepare their road books for the upcoming stages, the journalists and a part of the organisation await in Tunis where the Ministry of tourism has prepared a fabulous welcome with visits of the country's capital and fine typical meals for the followers. It's good to be in Africa and now let the show begin. And the show will be launched by Cyril Despres, first to take off in Sunday's special after victory in Castellon.