Dakar: Rally Raid UK update 2005-01-09

So were can I start ..... Most people have made it to the Atar rest day. Mark Eland and Mick Tomkinson are unfortunately out of the running along with Paul & Mark Round. Mick destroyed an engine, Mark crashed and is O.K. but in Dakar with a very...

So were can I start .....

Most people have made it to the Atar rest day. Mark Eland and Mick Tomkinson are unfortunately out of the running along with Paul & Mark Round. Mick destroyed an engine, Mark crashed and is O.K. but in Dakar with a very sore shoulder and The Rounds are nurturing a sick car back to Dakar with a dead turbo charger and Francisco is on his way home having run out of petrol.

The rest of the crew are suffering at the hands of the organisers, Mick Extance had a high 27th position at CP2 for stage 7 until the organisation started limiting peoples fuel, Mick set off after only being given 20 litres rather than the 39 that he was after. End result of this is that he ran out of petrol 60Km from the finish at 4am .... Watch the Dakar web site for the final result of this ridiculous situation .......

Pedro is up there at 30th but he got a full tank of petrol, plodding and consistent ..... Mick Hughes worked hard and with almost no sleep made it in. Paul Green in the car, after changing the second fuel pump made it to Atar and the Americans Charlie and Dave are still there harassing German tourists for bike batteries but are in Atar.

What I would like to tell you about in this email is the assistance people..... Before I took part in this game I thought that the Rally was all about the rider or driver finishing. Now I realise that this is a real team effort and every person in the team plays a vital roll. I've got to know 14 people that I would never had meet and shared an experience with them.

You will have seen that the Dakar people have been mucking around with fuel and generally giving the competitors a real hard time basically with a view to reducing the field which they have done very well, there are now 130 bikes left out of 250 and that's the public side of the race.

I'd like to take you back to Samara -- that was a number of days ago ....my last email came from there ... We set off for the assistance drive of 510Km's to Zouerat and it all started going wrong, the first 400 Km's was off road helmet's on across terrain that was basically a rally all of itself 100Km's in we meet up with the 2nd Discovery support vehicle that Rally Raid have with a broken air suspension system with the guys trying to force a piece of wood into the space that the unit used to be, in the end they welded up part of the tow bar from the Disco by the side of the road and spent 3 days getting to Atar including 100Km's driving literally down a railway line !! but that's another story, we moved on at a rate to try and get the mileage out the way, 20Km's up the road we broke the air suspension unit on the 2nd Discovery that we had, it never rains but it pours. No wood to had so we removed the wheel and waited for the F350 to return after they realised that we had been forced to stop. 2 hours later and a couple of sat phone calls the F350 returns having stopped some Danes and borrowed a coil spring from them. 30 mins later we are on the move again ... by now it's 1:30 and we have done 250Km's out of 510Km's and we started at 8:30am !

Some number of miles pass before the first puncture ! front wheel + large rock new tyre please, that's puncture number 1 -- you might like to keep count at this point. We have three spare tires and they are all 17" and rare. So we stop to change the tire and we are off again. Then we meet the support Landrover for the Danes that lent us the coil spring, they have gone over a 2 foot jump and snapped the chassis of the landrover in half and are looking at it in the desert !!! we stop say hello and ask if we can help but they say no thanks and send us on our way. Next we run into a pile of sand and camel grass and get the F350 stuck a couple of times but the real problem is just the off road mileage that's required. Getting out of the Camel grass on one occasion modifies the rear wing on the F350 and at least reduces the weight of the vehicle. The day carries on with more of the same and by 11pm we have made it to the end of the 510Km of off road. We eventually get to Zouerat at around 9:30 pm and the guys start work on the bikes, I get some sleep along with Zoli since we need to drive the following day and start early. The mechanics don't.

Early the following morning we start the 1355Km assistance to Tidjikja .... Good start as 20 Km's down the road we pick up another puncture, that's number 2 ... now more off road followed by a selection of large sand dunes most of which the F350 get's past but some of which it gets stuck in. Disco with BD to the rescue !! with the hydro-elastic tow rope and we are out but not before the rope ends up wrapped round a wheel and cut's the rear right break pipe !!! out comes the mole grips and the end of the pipe is sealed off, three brakes on my wagon ..... but off we go again. Loads more sand dunes and then finally we are back on reasonable hard piste, huge numbers of people getting stuck around us and left behind, basically they are trying to kill off the assistance people !!!! Now up to now all the punctures have been front wheel now we have a rear wheel one which you just can't feel at all ... once we stop a rear tire and rim have been destroyed and it's now sitting in the desert. That's number 3 and our spare now is a tire with an inch square hole in it.

Finally we get the end of the 400Km's of off road and now we start the 1050Km's of tarmac to get to get to Tidjikja but we are still sort on time as we have 2 days to do the journey but we need to do it via Nouakchott on the coast -- check out a map and look for Atar, Nouakchoot and Tidjikja to understand the full impact of this journey ! So we get to Nouakchoot and fill up with even more gas, find the Novatel and use the facilities -- very nice -- back on the road by now it's 9am or so. BD goes on to try and get to Tidjikja to meet the bikes and the Nissan and the F350 stick together. Eventually we arrived around 3AM and the guys once again started working on the bikes ! I go to sleep as does Zoli since we need to leave at 5:30 AM for -- get this -- the return journey to Atar -- another 1050Km's

So I'm asleep in the bivouac next to 4 other bikers -- I've just got to sleep -- about 10 seconds after getting into the sleeping bag and I wake up with a start and a 3" round tent pole has fallen and landed across me and the 4 bikes which was nice ! I'm back asleep almost immediately and awake at 5:45 having slept past my alarm. Back to the encampment to find the guys still working ..... The Danes have come over and asked for there coil spring back ... fortunately we bought two coil springs and some brake pipe in Nouakchott the day before some time so Ian set's about changing the coil spring, after loads of time and three jacks the spring is changed but it's no where near as nice as the race spring .... The Danes return and tell us they don't actually need the spring and can we take it to Dakar for them please .... Ian set's about swapping the springs again !!!!

11AM we finally leave for Atar after just catching Mike Hughes arriving after a real long night we get his bike and him sorted and send him on his way. A slow plod is all we are capable of doing, the Nissan and the F350 run together while BD is off in the Discovery to try and find Paul and Mark Round with a replacement turbo charger, they are now stuck in the desert after running out of fuel and buying fuel from the organisation at some ridiculous price. He does this and then set's off for Atar. Meanwhile we are still plodding away back up the road we have come down already -- we stop in Houakchott and get our only spare tire patched by a handy wayside tire place for 15 Euros then it's off to try and find a hotel to book into for a hour so we can all have a shower but it's 8PM by the time we are arrive, I've driven in Marrakech at 11PM and it's like 50 times worse that London on a bad day .... Houakchott is 20 times worse than Marrakech -- after an hour of looking we give up and head on to Atar -- it's 9:30 and we still have 400Km's to do ! Eventually we arrive in Atar at 2:30am, we find evidence of our bikers and Paul Greens car, some of the guys put up tents I just head for the bivouac with a sleeping bag and just crash.

Now it's the rest day !!! but not for assistance the guys are out fixing the bikes again Visitors have arrived and I'm out trying to blag some spare tires for the F350 !! The VW crew use them on there cars and I've found a real nice chap called Chris who promises me two tires at his cost price from Goodrich which is around 150 Euros each -- I have Paul's bottle of Jim Bean ready to hand over to them once they produce the tires as a thank you !

This is amazing fun, I've meet some real cool people who have been real nice to me who I'll almost certainly never meet again and I'm only half way through this adventure. The riders and drivers, most of which have made it this far, are the figure head of this game but the mechanics are the guy's that defiantly work the hardest most of the time with almost no sleep and this has changed my whole view of the Dakar. The other side of this is that it's unfair to drive the assistance teams this hard almost the extent of dangerous, even splitting driving across three people for these long distances gets strenuous after the third day.

Fortunately Monday is a rest day for us, the race is Atar to Atar on Monday so we get to not work that much on bikes and not go anywhere .... Then guess what we do on Tuesday .... Yep that's right we re trace the 1050Km's back to Kiffa which is 200Km's away from Tidjikja ! but the good news is that's the last of the massive distances ......

I have two more rocks now -- Mandy my other half will know why ......

-Martin Coulson

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Series Dakar
Drivers Mark Round , Paul Green , Mark Eland , Martin Coulson