Dakar: Portraits of the Day 2007-01-17

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day Wednesday January 17, 2007 Steve La Roza: "The misfortune of one is the happiness of another" American Steve La Roza is quite honest about it: "If Jonah Street hadn't gone out, I would have." There...

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day
Wednesday January 17, 2007

Steve La Roza: "The misfortune of one is the happiness of another"

American Steve La Roza is quite honest about it: "If Jonah Street hadn't gone out, I would have." There is no denying that Steve's rally got off to a bad start when his assistance broke down in Europe. "It was a disaster. As a Dakar virgin you need all the help you can get. When our assistance went out in Portugal I knew it was going to be tough -- but if I'd known how tough it would be I probably wouldn't have bothered getting on the boat." Fortunately fellow American Charlie Rauseo and the PIA Rally Pan America assistance crew took pity on Steve and came to his rescue.

"My engine blew up on stage 5. Jonah Street had already gone out so they gave me his, so in a way his misfortune saved my race. But to be honest even without that, if I hadn't had the PIA team's help, and especially that of Niles Follin, who's been doing my bike since I arrived in Africa, I wouldn't have lasted very long."

Several times winner of the Best of the Desert series in the States and multiple Baja finisher, to hear Steve talk you'd might be forgiven for thinking that the Dakar is considerably tougher than anything they have to offer on the other side of the pond. "Oh, without question. We think the Baja 1000 is tough but is nothing compared to this. It isn't just that it is tough physically, mentally the Dakar is very, very hard. It is relentless, you start worrying about the next day and the day after, it starts to grind you down." Too hard perhaps? "Well I wouldn't go that far. If I can raise the money I will definitely be back next year."

Stéphane Hamard: "My hands are really hurting"

The suffering has started for Stéphane Hamard, the last representative of the French overseas departments and territories following the withdrawal of driver Fabrice Marchand, then Simon Jean-Joseph. The man from Reunion, aware of what this means as well as the sacrifices required for him to be at the rally's starting line, seeks a little perspective: "We have to remember that we are on holiday, even if it is tough", he smiles. Whilst resistance and suffering come with the territory on the Dakar, Stéphane still has vivid memories of quite a serious fall on the Moroccan part of the rally: "I was riding fairly fast, so it was quite dramatic, but I fell on my behind. It's the most solid part of the body, so I got away with just a big bruise".

The most visible injuries are not the ones causing the most problems for Stéphane, who is suffering from a more insidious form of wear and tear. During the Atar -- Tichit stage, he spent 14 hours on the bike, standing on the foot-rests, leaning on the handlebars: "My hands are really hurting. They are totally stiff right throughout the day, gripping the handles. As soon as I try to open them it's painful. All in all, I'm really suffering due to the alternation between stony tracks and soft sand. Personally, I don't think there are enough dunes, because that's where I enjoy myself the most. The bike is more likely to get damaged on stony tracks as well, which causes us to spend more time sorting out mechanical problems. That's why I'm tired...".

In spite of it all, the rider from Reunion intends to withstand the pain and tiredness until Senegal, in particular up to the Pink Lake, to wipe away the painful memory of a fall between Tambacounda and Dakar that was fatal to his ambitions last year: "I'm already thinking about the Pink Lake. I'd be lying if I said otherwise. It's a sure thing that I will be paying more attention on setting out from Tambacounda, because you learn from your mistakes. After that, we'll see what happens; it's not the most important thing in life".

Eduardo Campoy and David Lopez: "We hugged and all that we could do was call it a day"

Just looking and listening to them, you cannot really tell just what they have gone through. It is 21.00 at the bivouac in Nema on Tuesday 16th January and it is obvious that the crew from Almeria have come from Tichit. What we do not know is what happened to them over the last 36 hours. The crew is made up of David Molina, the 37-year old co-pilot with long curly hair, the most talkative (it is his first Dakar which explains everything), and Eduardo Campoy, who already has an expedition under his belt. Last year, the farmer from El Ejido finished 52nd. Slightly surlier, he backs up his companion's story with a smile and nod of the head. For them, the story started on Sunday after 200 kilometres of the Atar-Tichit special stage, with a rupture to the front transmission on their Mitsubishi Pajero. They struggled on past the 400 km mark over obstacles and dunes. But at 01.00 in the morning they faced the facts. Exhausted and lost in the Mauritanian desert night, they climbed out of the car. "We just looked at each other and then we hugged. We had tried everything and all that we could do was call it a day. It was horrible".

However, their adventure was only just starting. "Since we couldn't just stay there, we decided to take a look at the problem anyway", explains David. In fact, the transmission was not ruptured, but simply blocked. Two hours later, they started on their way again with a new goal: to get to the finishing line in time. It was at 08.00 on Monday 15th January when car 424 arrived in Tichit. All that remained was for them to have their stage validated. "I ran onto the take-off strip to find the race CP plane, but it had already taken off. After all that we had gone through, we weren't going to get eliminated like that!" David Molina finally found a commissary. At 08.07 everything was settled. "Once they had signed the paper, we filled up on petrol, had something to eat, got some bottles of water and set off again", says Eduardo Campoy, mechanically breaking down the sequence of their actions.

500 kilometres later, they arrived in Nema in time, bringing a 36-hour odyssey to a close and paying tribute to the competitors who had helped them or who, on arrival at the bivouac, had congratulated them, without forgetting the Fidel brothers from Melilla who had lent them equipment for repairs. "That's what the Dakar is about", exclaims David, before talking about his driver: "Eduardo has an iron will and is a fixer of lost causes. He is a real Dakar pro". Eduardo excuses himself for not being presentable for the photos, and cannot really believe it when he is told that Sainz has not yet finished. It is 21.30 and the team from Andalusia try and keep cool heads. "Let's go eat", says Eduardo.

Ukyo Katayama: "Who knows what tomorrow might bring?"

Ukyo Katamaya is what you call an action sports fanatic. After more than 5 seasons behind the wheel of a formula 1 race car, for Minardi and Tyrell, the Japanese driver switched over to endurance races, picking up a fine 2nd place in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1999. But motor sport is not the only thing in Ukyo's life: in 2001, one of his dreams came true when he climbed Everest en 2001. It therefore seemed natural for such a thrill-seeker to take a shot at the most difficult of all the rally-raids: the Dakar! On his first participation in 2002, he finished in a respectable 40th place at the Pink Lake.

"Exploring is my life. Happiness for me is climbing the Himalayan Mountains!" However, his last climb on a summit above 8000 metres ended with a two month stay in hospital. "Since then, I have no feeling in the ends of my toes", which does not make it easy to drive his Toyota through the Mauritanian dunes.

For his 5th appearance on the rally, Ukyo does not really have any ambitions for the general rankings. He arrived at the start in Lisbon with a project that he holds dear to his heart: to complete the Dakar with a car running on recycled cooking oil, like the fuel used by the buses in Kyoto. The problem is that with its bio-fuel, his Toyota is 20% less powerful than the other diesel vehicles in the rally. "It all seems very long. There is no competition and it's a bit frustrating". In addition to this, there have been mechanical problems: "The car was designed by students in Kyoto with the aid of the Japanese government. Unfortunately, the students don't really have an idea of what the Dakar is like and the car has had lots of reliability problems".

Since Ukyo only lives for challenges, his next goal is to complete the Dakar on a motorbike... In the meantime, the Japanese driver continues along his gentle route to Senegal without getting carried away. "Who knows what tomorrow might bring? God only knows..."

-credit: dakar.com

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Ukyo Katayama , Simon Jean-Joseph , Charlie Rauseo , Jonah Street