Dakar: Nissan day 12 notes

Colin McRae and Ari Vatanen win their bet by reaching Bobo Dioulasso within the alloted time... The two Nissan Pickup vehicles are still in the race... After plenty of questions and incertitude, the two Nissan Pickup vehicles driven by Ari...

Colin McRae and Ari Vatanen win their bet by reaching Bobo Dioulasso within the alloted time...

The two Nissan Pickup vehicles are still in the race... After plenty of questions and incertitude, the two Nissan Pickup vehicles driven by Ari Vatanen and Colin McRae finally reached Bobo Dioulasso this afternoon, before the 18:00 deadline, after which they would have been excluded from the race. They will therefore be able to rejoin the trail tomorrow, having lived through the sort of moments that only the Dakar can provide. A fine human adventure, and an amazing sporting achievement, considering the huge distance they had to cover in a relatively short time.

At 15:25 exactly, Colin's Nissan Pickup reached the Bobo Dioulasso bivouac, after three problemfilled days spent in the heart of Africa. With numerous journalists and photographers waiting impatiently for him, all of whom had been holding their breath since last Friday, the Scottish driver appeared quite efresh'. Tina Thörner, his co-driver, smiling widely, got out of the car dressed in a pretty African tunic, bought on the way, in order to have some clean clothes to wear. She admitted later that Colin had bought the same, but with decorated with blue elephants...

All the Nissan Rally Raid Team appeared to be relieved that the first of the Pickups had returned to the nest, but Ari Vatanen had been out of contact for many hours, and everyone was wondering whether he would manage to clock in on time. But just thirty minutes after Colin arrived, one of the organisation helicopters took off to try to locate the second Pickup. The good news came quickly ...Ari had been spotted driving 50 km from the finish line. And effectively, 30 minutes later, the Finnish line-up reached the bivouac, having covered nearly 1600 km...

Very relaxed, Colin faced the pack of journalists, all eager for details. He was charming and very happy to answer their questions, which was much appreciated by those journalists in attendance.

" After everything that happened, I must admit that I never doubted for a minute. I remained confident throughout, especially after it was announced that the two stages had been neutralised. Then when the assistance truck arrived, I understood that everything was still possible. It is thanks to them that we are still here. The Dakar is a really special race, everything can change from one moment to the next, and the smallest of mechanical problems can have irreversible consequences. One of the things that amazes me is the speed you reach on some sections, which can be compared to those in the Safari Rally in Kenya.

Tina and I therefore spent two nights and two days with Ari and Juha. The time did seem rather long, because waiting in those conditions is relatively difficult. But Ari, as always, kept the conversation going, most especially concerning politics. He is very talkative, and inexhaustible on that subject... We also had the company of some Mauritanian soldiers, who stayed with us throughout. We were never in danger, not for one moment. When our assistance truck arrived, it gave us tents and duvets, but also some provisions. We did not lack water, or food. I am now going to rest, to get some hours of sleep before setting off again tomorrow morning. I want to make the most of the remaining stages. We can aim for a stage victory, but it will not be easy, as we will be starting a long way back. I must admit that I have a real love-hate relationship with this race, and now I understand better everything that I was told. But the Dakar has not managed to get rid of me, I am still here and ready to get underway again... "

Colin had barely finished his interviews when Ari Vatanen reached the bivouac, being pushed by... the Patrol of Gilles Martineau... Just five kilometres from the check point, Ari's gear-box had blocked.... Just like the Mitsubishi of Stéphane Peterhansel at the start of the rally, Ari was awarded a five-minute penalty.

" So much has happened since Friday evening... We broke down with clutch problems, while trying to help Colin who had problems as well. Then we had to wait long hours for the assistance truck to come. We got underway again yesterday morning at around 11 am, but just 100 km from the finish line of the special stage, our gearbox broke... We got going again at around midnight to try to get to the bivouac. Moreover, we only had one working headlight, and in these dark nights, it is not easy to find the right way. Between Nema and Bamako, we gave ourselves quite a fright. On a fast, wide track, as fast as a runway, I suddenly noticed an obstacle in the middle of the road.

As I have been driving in Africa for quite some time, I instinctively began to brake. Luckily, because there was a real wall of rocks and earth that was blocking the path. We stopped just one metre from this wall... After that, I asked Juha to take the wheel for a few hours. I got some rest, and then we kept going, in order to get here. Juha didn't think we could make it, but here we are ... and then, just five km from the CP, the gearbox blocked, and I couldn't put it in first gear. We have really seen it all. Dakar is still a long way. A Finnish proverb says that a ship has not reached port, even if it is just one metre from the quay.... But on the personal level, as so often in Africa, this adventure has been very enriching. Life is not only made up of good times, there are also difficult moments, and you have to live through them to appreciate it all the better. Sleeping on the trail was no problem, and moreover, I had to look after elittle Colin', the youngster who got here before me, as I did not want to leave him alone ... The Dakar is also made up of the people you meet, and in those sort of circumstances, they take on a whole new dimension. The Mauritanian soldiers stayed with us, but so did some einhabitants'. They even kindly offered us some camel milk. Among them, there was a young boy, 12 years old, who got into our car to have his photo taken. I'll never forget his smile. I also took advantage of that time to write my diary. This is my 12th Dakar, but we are not at the end yet. Perhaps we can still win some stages .. and if we have managed to get this far, our intention is definitely to reach the Rose Lake.

Gilles Martineau, relieved to have recovered his two vehicles, praised the performance of his drivers : " I am very pleased that the two Pickup vehicles arrived within the time limit. I am also full of admiration that Ari decided to leave at half-past midnight, knowing that there were still so many kilometres to cover, without any assistance. We had given the assistance truck orders not to follow them any more, because if there had been another problem, it would have been useless. I salute his fighting spirit, and I am pleased to note that there is a real team spirit in our team. The second part of the race will be difficult. There will be plenty of vehicles to overtake in the dust, but it will be good practice for the next Dakar... And as for a stage win before the end, why not ? Yoshio is continuing his race in the Production category, trying to improve his classification, but he will also play a rapid assistance role, carrying spares for the Pickups. "

Tomorrow, the race will get underway again, with a 213 km special stage. After the bush, the track becomes a laterite ribbon through the tropical forest. 213 km of tracks worthy of the World Rally Championship. It will be quick, very quick even, for the best. But it will be necessary to take care, as some major potential traps litter the stage as it crosses the luxurious Banfora forest. Tomorrow evening, the competitors will return to Bamako.

-nissan-

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Colin McRae , Stéphane Peterhansel , Ari Vatanen , Tina Thorner