Dakar: Nissan Dessoude stage 11 report

Today's leg... Due to the changes which had to be made to the original route, the competitors stopped at Ayoun el Atrous before heading for Mali. It was a semi-rest day, as the surviving competitors in this 29th edition of the Dakar left Nema at...

Today's leg...

Due to the changes which had to be made to the original route, the competitors stopped at Ayoun el Atrous before heading for Mali. It was a semi-rest day, as the surviving competitors in this 29th edition of the Dakar left Nema at midday and reached Ayoun after a liaison sector of 280 km.

Carole and Mélanie: Courage and determination ...

Two days ago, we left Carole Montillet and Mélanie Suchet stuck in the middle of the timed stage between Tichit and Néma, struggling with a broken engine bracket. After two days out of the race, they finally arrived in Nema yesterday evening, and told us of their Mauritanian adventures...

"Our problems started on Monday, 110 km into the special stage. The engine bracket broke, and we had to cope alone. Following all the advice we were given, and with lots of hard work, we finally managed to strap up the engine. We got going again, more carefully than ever, and reached CP1 at the start of the evening. We gave the car another check-up, and continued. But the nightmare was only just starting. About thirty kilometers later, the engine started to make strange noises. We preferred to stop rather than to risk further damage, hoping that the assistance truck would reach us quickly, solve the problem and allow us to continue.

We had already calculated how far we had to go, the approximate time it would take, the time that the Nema checkpoint was due to close and the starting time of the next stage. Unfortunately, fate was against us. André Dessoude gave our position to the assistance truck, but while it was trying to reach us, it became stuck in the dunes. At that point, we did not know about this problem, and the long wait began.

Night fell, and we tried to get a few hours sleep. An organisation medical car came to meet us, and gave us some water and provisions. At no point were we in danger. We had enough to drink and eat."

At 3:30, unable to stand it any longer, Carole got up and was determined to do something. They made another attempt to get going, but the battery was flat and they only managed a few metres.

Finally, at 8 am, the girls sat down on the bonnet of their Pathfinder, staring down the track and waited for the hypothetical truck... but nothing came. At 2 pm, an assistance truck from the Promotech team turned up, going to fetch one of its vehicles. The mechanics did what they could to start the Nissan and undertook a makeshift repair. Hope was reborn...

"We started off, full of hope, and took great care, but as we continued, the engine was giving further signs of weakness."

By the end of the afternoon, the dreaded sweeper truck which caught them up. "As far as the race was concerned, there was no choice: we had to retire. But we were not giving up and leaving the car there. We would go on to the end."

As determined as ever, Carole and Mélanie were not about to give in. Their progress was slow, but the sweeper truck was there, behind them, reassuring them and encouraging them to carry on. 30 km from Néma, the engine gave up the ghost. This time, there was no other option but to put the car in the truck. But the 'girls' were persuasive, and considering how near they were to the finish line, the sweeper truck agreed to tow the Pathfinder. Reaching the bivouac, our survivors of the trail showed no signs of anger or fatigue, and were resigned but smiling, even if the outcome was bitter.

"It's a disappointment, as we'd completed the hardest part of the rally, and we should have been able to complete the rest without too many problems, and reach Dakar. But that's racing. Our satisfaction is that we fought until the end to reach our goal, but that's what we've always done, it's our nature, that's all. We would like to thank the partners who allowed us to undertake this adventure which, just a few weeks ago, was only a dream. Our thanks to André Dessoude, to our team and to everyone who helped us out on the trails. We don't like unfinished challenges, and I hope that we will be able to return, and that then, we'll be able to go to the end of the dream, and reach the Rose Lake..."

Faced with this retirement, there is one man who, even with 25 years of Dakar experience, cannot get over this: André Dessoude.

"I have rarely seen such determination within one team. Even when they arrived in Néma, Carole and Mélanie were smiling. They showed real courage and a great sense of responsibility. I know many competitors, with much more experience than them, who would have given up as soon as they encountered the first problems. They didn't. I am astonished by their attitude and very disappointed with their retirement. I would really have loved to see them reach Dakar. They really deserve it. You only see such mentality in champions, which they already are, and they proved it in the best way possible."

The assistance truck which had gone to 'rescue' them and found itself shipwrecked, should soon reach Néma. Over 45 hours on the trail. Water and food was running low, but some Mauritanians had gone to meet them, in order to help them out so that this adventure could draw to a close without further incident.

Tomorrow, the race will get going again, with a 257 km special stage, heading for Kayes. The rally will enter Mali, where the population density is extremely high. Since the start of the event, the watchword has been the safety of the inhabitants of the towns and villages crossed by the rally.

-credit: dessoude

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Carole Montillet , Mélanie Suchet , André Dessoude