Dakar: Portraits of the Day 2007-01-20

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day Saturday January 20, 2007 Alan Morel: "I'm better at it now..." "It's not a Dad's Dakar anymore", is a refrain that can be heard here and there at the bivouacs on this year's rally. Alan Morel has...

Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 Portraits of the Day
Saturday January 20, 2007

Alan Morel: "I'm better at it now..."

"It's not a Dad's Dakar anymore", is a refrain that can be heard here and there at the bivouacs on this year's rally. Alan Morel has been applying this to the letter since the beginning of the race. A year after he became the youngest quad rider, at 19 years old, to finish the Dakar with the encouragement and in the tracks of his father, Alan has now cast off the paternal custodianship. At the start in Lisbon, the arrangement he had come to with his father did not seem to leave him as much liberty: "last year, he was riding behind me, to discover the rally, and this year he'll be riding in front, to learn how to navigate. But we'll still be riding together", explained Antoine Morel on the ferry across the Mediterranean Sea.

Right from the Moroccan stages, this scenario was turned upside down by the vision of the progress Alan had made and lessons he had learned since last year's edition. It has not been an easy year for Alan, who was immobilised for more than two months following a motorbike accident and went on to break his collar bone in the autumn falling off his bike. But once he was back in Africa, his instinct allowed Alan to meet the challenge of being independent: "Last year, the race ran me; this time I'm running it. I feel much more relaxed and have a much better grasp of the rally. I don't feel lost". Faster than his father, Morel junior has moved out of Morel senior's shadow to stand on his own two feet: "I'm all the happier since I can see that he is using his head to handle the race. What's more, when he feels that it's too difficult for him, like in the Mauritanian stages, he waits for me. Now he knows the pitfalls and knows he should be wary of them", says Antoine.

Proud to have efficiently managed the apprenticeship of his son, who finished in a respectable 45th position in the motorbike rankings in the stage finishing in Kayes, Antoine Morel is delighted to be the teacher who sees his pupil emulate him: "I keep saying to myself that we have an age gap of twenty-five years, and that if I had started at his age, I would surely be winning the category". His teaching days are far from over, however, for Kevin, Alan's younger brother, who was waiting for them in Tambacounda, is already simmering with impatience at the idea of taking part in his own first Dakar... perhaps next year?

Didier Calvez: "Not one single stage without a problem"

By dint of trying, Didier Calvez and Stéphane Sacchettini stand for a certain idea of victory. Not that of medals and photos on the front pages. The rewards that these two natives of Brittany have been savouring on the Dakar 2007 have a taste of effort and recurring misfortunes: "It's very simple: we haven't had a single stage without a real problem since Lisbon. From the first specials stage in fact, where we made the mistake of not using special tires for sand. By starting last, we had to deal with tracks full of ruts and I lost count of how many times we go stuck in the sand. It took us nearly five hours to complete the 117 km. After that, we got stuck in the vicious circle of the late finishers: you start late and end up behind lots of trucks, the terrain is in a terrible state, you drive at night... And let's not forget the mechanical problems: it's the Full Monty", explains Didier.

As the breakdowns and special stages accumulated, Didier and Stéphane have no longer care about the amount of sleep that they have lost or the general rankings. The build up of problems have nonetheless given rise to several glorious moments, in particular at the end of the interminable Tichit stage: "To start with, everything was fine, but soon the steering hardened up and the clutch started to burn. We stopped to let it cool down, and then a truck towed us for two kilometres to help us out of the dunes. However, we hadn't solved the power steering problem and it was the middle of the night. When we went through CP3 everyone was asleep so we carried on, bearing in mind that there was a time limit at which we had to arrive. I had a sore arm, I was sweating and I didn't know if the clutch was going to hold out. It was the only time when I had doubts in my mind, but in the end, we arrived at 11.00 in the morning, just in time to take a road book, fill up on petrol and start the following special stage. Stéphane did a lot of the driving that day, because I had hurt my thumb on the steering wheel and it was too sore for me to drive".

Since then, they have continued their run of bad luck, but these two former bikers, who no longer know how to bear a grudge, soldier on in a good humoured fashion. As if they hadn't already lost enough time, they also took it upon themselves to pull Yvan Muller and René Metge out of the dunes using a strap to tow them. This good deed won them the fair-play prize: "And in Nema we made the finishing line in daylight for the first time, which was a big victory for us", adds Didier.

Dominique Bas and François Fockenier: "We're taking it at our pace"

At the bivouac in Kayes, they made a quiet entrance at the end of Thursday afternoon. "We got towed in with a wire so on the finishing line, we pushed the car over to not get a penalty", smiles co-pilot François Fockenier. A snapped clutch 20 kilometres from the finishing line of the special stage delayed the Alpine representatives in their march forwards. "We had to slam the gears in and we finished in 2nd", explains François. Being towed to the bivouac did not damage their morale however, far from it: they are delighted to be taking part in the Dakar. "I've taken part 15 times in the medical assistance teams and it's my first time as a competitor. It's great to be on the other side of the fence", admits the head of the resuscitation service at Briançon hospital. "We're taking it at our own pace, steadily", adds Dominique Bas, boss of the Raid Aventures XDunes team, who is taking part for the second time after 46th place last year.

The two friends got grips with the laterite, dunes and stones of the Dakar in a basic Mitsubishi L200, designed in Brazil. "We probably have least powerful car of all. It's a 2.5-litre, that's all, with 180 horsepower. But it's very well-balanced. In fact, we're taking part in its technical validation before a specific production series is launched", explains Dominique Bas. The indented targets are Raid Aventure customers who wish to have a reliable but also economically accessible vehicle. "This L200 should be sold for 80-85,000 Euros".

The drivers of car 474 possess the astonishing calm of veterans. Sat at a table in front of their assistance truck, they savour this Dakar and the tales they will take back home with them. "We got through the few dunes there were, without any problems, whereas other competitors came unstuck", says François. "We had a real tough time during the stage that finished in Tichit: 36 hours without sleep", reminds Dominique. But the there has been a sour note: the theft of their satellite dish in Morocco. "That meant we had to limit our communication plan to the strict minimum", says François Fockenier. "I phone my wife who relays the news that concerns us". More than the wire to finish the stage one evening in Mali, it is the telephone wire which is important for them on the Dakar.

Syndiely Wade: "It's heart-warming"

Syndiely Wade is back. Last year, the Senegalese driver was absent from her sole appointment with the world of the rally-raid. However, her visit to the Hôtel Méridien, which hosts the arrival of the competitors in Dakar, immediately convinced her to take part once more: "It was a strange feeling to see them finish the rally whilst I wasn't part of it. But I was especially glad to meet all the people who I had started to get to know well. I didn't waste time in organising my participation for this year. This time I decided to by a car and take care of the preparation myself, instead of hiring one ready to drive like I did in previous years. It's a way of getting more deeply involved and, as a result, it's a different adventure", explains the returning driver, who has been behind the wheel of a Nissan 4x4 bought from Abdou Thiam since the start in Lisbon.

For her fourth participation in the rally, each time with Pierre-Henry Desmazures as co-pilot, Syndiely was immediately confronted with extreme situations: "After 20 km of the race, we broke a hub and finished the first stage being towed by our assistance truck with a strap". Whilst things have got considerably better, Morocco reserved a few surprises for the Senegalese President's daughter: "Between Er Rachidia and Ouarzazate, we had a problem with the ignition-distributor head a quarter of the way through the special stage. In total, we spent most of the night crossing an erg and arrived in the small hours of the morning. But in the mean time, I had fallen asleep at the wheel on the connection section and was woken up when we ran into a post".

In between the frights and setbacks, Syndiely still managed to cross Morocco, Mauritania and Mali without any major problems, to return to her country in the stage that finished in Tambacounda: "There you are: I'm back home again. Just after the border, there was a welcoming committee at the start of the special stage and a fair few people at the finishing line. It's heart-warming to see that people travel a long way to come and see me".

After the rally, which she sees as a break in her busy schedule, Miss Wade will devote herself to her many and varied activities that are often sports related: "I was in charge of communication for the Senegal football team and for the cycling tour of Senegal. I'm also working to set up a national rugby team. But I've also helped set up a fashion show for Senegalese fashion designers in Paris. What's more, I took charge of organising the evacuation of Senegalese nationals last summer during the conflict in Lebanon. The Dakar is like a holiday for me".

-credit: dakar.com

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Series Dakar
Drivers Yvan Muller , Syndiely Wade , René Metge , Antoine Morel , Dominique Bas