Dakar: Portraits of the Day 2007-01-15

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day Monday January 15, 2007 Rafael Lesmes: "The Dakar is still a human adventure but it is more professional than ever." "We cannot do anything crazy with our car. It's a barely modified Nissan Navarra...

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day
Monday January 15, 2007

Rafael Lesmes: "The Dakar is still a human adventure but it is more professional than ever."

"We cannot do anything crazy with our car. It's a barely modified Nissan Navarra T2-2. We put a 200l tank in it. We improved the rear suspensions due to the additional load and that's it." Rafael is not trying to be first in the race. With a minimum budget of 150000 euros, he is participating in his second Dakar with a very romantic philosophy. What moves him is the adventure, Africa, the unforeseen. Not the competition in itself. Which does not prevent him from being a bit of a calculator, still in his own way. "Investing in the Dakar is cost-effective. It may be a lot of money but after all it's not that expensive. There is no better therapy: you switch off, you forget everything, it's a dream."

Rafael Lesmes is totally into the Dakar legend. In his retreat in the Canary Islands, he is already in Dakar mood. Owner of a travel agency, he organizes raids on his island and lives in the great outdoors. Rafael loves open spaces and freedom. He had resisted for 5 stages for his first Dakar in 2004 and he now finds an even bigger rally. What still amazes him is the impossible balance the even seems to keep. "It's bigger but it is still a human adventure but it is more professional than ever." His greatest pleasures on the Dakar are escaping and driving. "I can drive for 10 hours without stopping," he says. But Rafael is no way near Mad Max: "I am saying that but I must admit that when the organizers decided to shorten the stage arriving in Atar because of the sandstorms, I was pretty happy. I had it up to here!"

Nr. 477 is just happy to participate. It's his creed. "What matters is to do things in a humane and modest way." With his long almost white hair tied with a rubber band, his both piercing and detached eyes, he loves the Dakar of the small people. "There are two races," he says. "In front or behind the trucks. When they pass you buy I can tell you it's pretty impressive." To recover, he always has a book to read. This year, it's the latest book by Javier Reverte. A book about travels of course. "I started reading it on the plane and I read a bit in Portugal. But since we started in Africa, I haven't had the time." The Dakar therapy is already at play...

Gérard Tilliette: "I asked Anne-Charlotte to find a solution."

It took a lot of believing in it, a bit of imagination, some self-confidence and more importantly a lot of common sense. But this is how the craziest ideas can be born on the Dakar. On paper it's a pretty daring challenge: Gérard Tilliette, off-road biker, organizer of private raids in Morocco, took his 20-year old daughter Anne-Charlotte along to race to Dakar on some 8,000 km of roads and dirt. On the evening of the first special stage in Lisbon, nothing indicated that the father had been well-inspired: "I don't know how many times she fell; it was a catastrophe. I really had to wonder what on earth we were doing here," admits Gérard, who was reassured by the following events.

Once her first scares gone, the baby girl of the Dakar was actually pretty convincing. On the Ouarzazate -- Tan Tan stage, the roles got unexpectedly inverted and led Anne-Charlotte to take the destiny of the family adventure in her own hands: "after a series of more or less fruitful attempted repairs, I ended up with a totally ruined wheel just 30km shy from the finishing line. So I told Anne-Charlotte to keep going alone and to find a way to bring me a spare wheel". She may look like a kid but the young biker -- despite her fright -- showed she could have cold-bloodedness: "At finish, I took out one of my wheels and found someone, a Moroccan military man, who took the part to my dad. Then I had to find a way of having another wheel shipped to me in Zouerat. With the time it took to find us and to finish all the repairs, we got to the bivouac at 3AM and departure was scheduled for 4h30AM!"

Despite a short and pretty hectic night, the duet has not lost its energy and confidence! Much to the contrary, the Tilliette father and daughter have already achieved half of the contract, while almost 70 bikers had already left the rally before Atar: "It was our first objective." Gérard also sees his daughter in a different light with this Dakar experience: "She is so different from the way I generally see her. She is e.g. so organized, so autonomous; she can handle it all pretty well; she gets up early in the morning. Back home in Saint-Omer, she's rather the messy type!" Some say that the Dakar is the school of life...

Carole Montillet & Melanie Suchet: from snow to sand!

It is perhaps not too surprising that yachtsmen have always been attracted to the Dakar, but what is it with skiers? Luc Alphand is the most obvious (and successful) example, Guerlain Chicherit another. This year they are joined by another couple of downhill world champions -- Carole Montillet and Melanie Suchet - at the wheel of a T2 Nissan.

Explains Carole, "Our real passion is quads, which we ride a lot where I live in Andorra - we have even entered the Rallye de Gazelle three times on them. However when I mentioned doing the Dakar on quads to Melanie she said I was completely crazy, and having seen them out on the piste over the last week, she's probably right! Although the comparison between snow and the desert isn't immediately obvious there are a surprising number of similarities. In both cases the piste is never the same and evolves constantly, there is the contact with nature and the element of speed."

Although they are both enjoying themselves immensely, and not doing too badly at all in the rankings, neither is planning a second career in rally-raid -- just yet. "We have both just retired from competition skiing and have decided to have a year off just trying different things and having some fun", says Montillet. "Simply organising ourselves for the Dakar was a lot of work, and after years of top level competition it would be nice to take things easy for a while. On the other hand if ever an interesting offer came along..."

Elisabetta Caracciolo: "Get in touch with your feminine side, race a truck!"

The stereotypical image of your average truck driver is a big bloke with a bit of a gut and a fine selection of tattoos. Your stereotypical image of an Italian women is the embodiment of femininity -- think Sophia Loren. So how come there are no less than three Italian women entered in the truck class, two co-drivers and one driver, in the form of Luisa Trucco.

Elisabetta Caracciolo, co-driver in a MAN truck alongside, Massimo Capoferri and Luigi Algeri, has participated in innumerable Dakars, in a number of different guises. "I have covered the Dakar many times as a journalist and even worked in the catering service, but this is my first time in a racing truck and I have enjoyed every minute of it. You'd think that the truck category was very macho and wouldn't take kindly to female competitors, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Everybody is really friendly and helpful. I think one of the reasons is that only a few of the trucks are really racing, the rest are rapid assistance for car or bike teams. That means it is a class that attracts people who are less competitive and more helpful --a bit like women in general really!"

If it all sounds to Barbara Cartland to be true, rest assured, according to Elisabetta, there is nothing that upsets her team mate Massimo more than being overtaken on the piste by a woman.

-credit: dakar.com

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Luc Alphand , Guerlain Chicherit , Carole Montillet , Mélanie Suchet , Massimo Capoferri , Luigi Algeri