Dakar: Portraits of the Day 2007-01-18

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day Thursday January 18, 2007 Paul Round: "1st time race driver" Paul Round is on his ninth Dakar but this is his first as a driver in a race car. "I have done other peoples' assistance, driven a press...

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day
Thursday January 18, 2007

Paul Round: "1st time race driver"

Paul Round is on his ninth Dakar but this is his first as a driver in a race car. "I have done other peoples' assistance, driven a press car and even been a co-driver but I have never before been behind the wheel of a race car on the Dakar." And not just any old race car either, but rather one built by him and his Rally-Raid UK team, based in the north of England. In all 14 examples of the BMW turbo diesel powered 4x4s have been constructed so far, with 7 on the start line for the 2007 Dakar.

Paul himself was lucky simply to get out of Portugal after being hit from behind on the first special from Lisbon to Portimao. "The car was a right wreck. The back axle was broken, as was a radius arm and a shock absorber. It took us four hours just to get out of the special and we made it to the parc ferme just before it closed. The problem is that after that you are playing catch up and we didn't get the car properly sorted out until Ouarzazate. If it had happened four years ago, when we didn't have all the gear with us, I would never have made it to the boat."

Now however Paul is sitting in the Nema bivouac and is quietly confident of making it all the way to Dakar at his 'first' ever attempt. "The dunes are behind us and I am a lot more relaxed. All I intend to do over the next few days is cruise down the laterite pistes to Senegal and have a bit of a drive around Lac Rose." With, of course, the added satisfaction of doing it in a car he built himself.

Christophe Girard: "Seven hours of sleep in five days!"

The depth of the overall rankings are held by participants from various horizons. Some even come with the belief that they will have to navigate for most of the race. For Christophe Girard and Eric Simonin, who are in charge of the Toyota rapid assistance team, this apparently not-so-flattering position in the ranking is the core of their mission: "We are traveling with some 800 kg in spare parts and repair equipment in the trunk. This is a real mini T4 -- the assistance trucks of the race proper. And our role is to help our competitors when they are in trouble on trail. Of course, this means we have to go after the last one of them has started. This year, we had nine cars starting from Lisbon that we had to follow. In such conditions, we also had as an order never to break down ourselves", explains Christophe at the bivouac in Néma.

Playing deluxe good Samaritain leads to spending very busy days and nights on the Dakar. It's e.g. what happened during the Ouarzazate -- Tan Tan stage when three 'clients' stranded in the same erg delayed the mechanics duet. "First Machado broke a spindle; it took us more than an hour. Then a little further we had to change half a front wheel-axle unit on Marques' car and finally we spent another hour with a Portuguese competitor. It took us at least 4 hours to cover 20 km. That night we got to the bivouac at 4h00 AM... to then service our own car! In total we slept seven hours in the five days before the rest day."

As the stages unfold, the task of Christophe and Eric is however bound to evolve. Between Tichit and Néma, their leader Ronan Chabot had a position to defend to win a title in T2. So the order was to drive at a sufficient pace to be able to intervene quickly. Without breaking down obviously... "When you are caught in this kind of sporting challenge, it becomes highly motivating. By the way, Ronan broke half a wheel-axle unit today and we arrived pretty fast. He did loose quite a lot of time and victory is still compromised. But if he eventually wins, it will be a bit thanks to us," says Christophe with a smile.

Koenraad Verburgh: "Folks on the Dakar are weird!"

"Oh yeah! Bruges is nice!" Koenraad does not sound that enthusiastic. Seated on his white trunk, his moustache blowing in the wind, he's looking at his bike lying there on its flank. At the Nema bivouac, his Belgian hometown and its small canals are pretty far away. Koenraad's mind is set on the Dakar. And here is another successful repair. Not that bad actually but at the end of stage 10 anything is a burden. This time around it's his Dutch colleagues from the Kroon team that lent him an exhaust. "I drove like that for the whole half-stage yesterday. It's pretty noisy actually."

Koenraad Verburgh is 47. He did his first Dakar in 2004 in pain but he finished. "I can't remember which position I ended at. Doesn't matter..." Actually he finished 55th but when you listen to him it's true that the raid rally takes on a whole new dimension. "When you are here as an amateur, there is no need to look at the rankings," he adds. "It's just impossible to aim for the top of the rankings. Large teams are in another world. I don't even have my assistance. It's too expensive." Information about the race is remote too. Who's leading the bike category? "I don't know" he says convinced this detail is superfluous.

Koenraad's motivation is six little words: "I'm here for the thrill." He adds that it was impossible to participate when he was younger: "If you get here too young with minimum conditions, I can't work." In a nutshell, the Dakar is a thing for mature men according to Koenraad. "It's a struggle against yourself", he adds. Same bike as three years ago. Same loneliness. Nr. 121 thinks that "folks on the Dakar are weird." It's his indirect way of defining himself. He's here to make the most of the adventure, just as he did the previous times. Before getting back to selling and buying used cars, Koenraad was a paratroop in the Belgian army. His choice of route is good and he banks on it to move forward in the race he mainly sees as a raid. "The only things helping me out here are the words of my wife. She's known me for 20 years. She knows that's a part of me. And she told me: we only live once, so go for it. But do come back."

Oz Bestel: "Nothing can ever make me quit!"

To the question "is it the most difficult event you ever participated in?", Oz Bestel takes a long time reflecting before answering: "probably, because it's so long...". It has to be said that the strong South-African is used to physical effort and challenges. Having participated in triathlons and canoe raids, Oz knows the true meaning of pain.

The businessman discovered raids pretty late, just a few years ago, on TV. After deciding to take on the big challenge, Oz went to see his friend from Durban, Alfie Cox, a reference on the Dakar. This was an opportunity to hear the precious advise of the biker who finished 3rd of the rally in 1999 and 2005 and -- more importantly -- o test for the first time driving on a KTM 660.

His beautiful bike, which had just come out of its wrapping before the rally, had it all on the trails of Morocco, Mauritania and even Portugal. "I started by hitting a tree in the very first special stage but I kept going. On the Tan Tan stage, I had to take a dive to avoid a car rushing at me but it nevertheless drove on the front of my bike. The navigation instruments are pretty damaged." And when it's not a car, it's a biker who almost broke Oz's dream to get to Dakar. "I was driving at night on my way to Nema and in camel grass I collided with my friend Mike Hughes". By a strange irony of fate, Mike is the English biker Oz spends long hours with during the special stages.

The famous spirit of the Dakar, mainly between bikers, helped the South-African rookie well. "On the way to Atar, Gauthier de Hautecloque, who is often -- as I am -- at the end of the pack, showed me how to navigate. And I gave him a hand in the dunes where he's less good. I also drive with Philippe Tonin quite often. He doesn't speak English and I speak even less French but we talk in sign language."

136th out of 141 bikers still in the race, Oz Bestel is proud of what he has accomplished so far and particularly of these longest nights finishing in the African darkness. "I accepted the fact of having to drive at night and nothing can ever make me quit!"

-credit: dakar.com

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Series Dakar
Drivers Alfie Cox , Paul Round , Ronan Chabot , Philippe Tonin