We continue with Robb into the second day of the Dakar Rally.
The final note for yesterday’s opening stage was that the real Dakar starts today. 518km over a range of rocky, 2000m high mountains and then back down into the central Argentinean plateau, rocks, dirt, semi-desert and soft sand, the longest stage of the event had it all.
In the woods on the shore of a lake the first night’s service park was the most picturesque I have even been to. We pulled out early and drove far too slowly for my liking weaving in and out of the slow-going service trucks through the sun-baked landscape. The a/c I nout Land Cruiser died and the contents of the ‘lunchbox’ did absolutely nothing for 100kg of excited Welshman… but whatever discomfort I was feeling it was nothing compared to what the drivers were going through.
A hot day in South America
From the finish I walked in a couple of km and the heat of the ground radiated like a furnace, but at least today there was a wind. Before the start I knew that the new spec Toyotas with the extra power and independent rear suspension would be faster than last year and today that was proved. Orlando Terranova was first over the line but South African Giles de Villiers was hot on his heels in a very tight fight. Third home was Nasser Al-Attiyah, the happy Qatari smiling as usual… but there were a few people missing.
Second yesterday was a great start for the Speed Energy team but it seems it’s all over already for Robby Gordon. Word from his team is that his brakes failed near the start which cost 50 minutes… but it seems something else has happened as he still wasn’t at the finish after over an hour. People wearing black T-shirts with the orange lightening strike on the front were looking despondent.
I love the Peugeots. Dakar fans love the Peugeots. Everyone loves the Peugeots… except the Peugeot drivers, if the open rumours I have been hearing are true. We knew that the first couple of stages would tell whether they were in with a chance this year but at the end of Day 2 I can say that the win will be between MINI and Toyota. When the second 3008DKR finally pulled in Stephane Peterhansel could hardly stand up and needed a few minutes with a cold Red Bull before he could speak to the TV crews. But I got to sit down with him and did a little interview. “It was a really tough stage, a lot of fesh fesh. The car was OK but I lost control, hit a tree and had to stop to fix the wheel. It took 30 minutes but that was OK but then when we were ready to go it wouldn’t start again and so we had to wait for another competitor to come and bump start us!” He came in 27th and so is another of the top runners to fall out of the hunt.
A tough fight
In the car we were struggling with internet so my wonderful friend Marina was sending us text updates all the way from Israel and at Check Point 12 Benediktas Vanagas was up to a great 17th after starting 33rd. That meant he was half way to getting into the Top 10 on only Day 2! But unfortunately, waiting at the finish the time was ticking away… and when he came to the finish I couldn’t believe how he looked. Once he’d cleaned the thick layer of dirt off his face he looked deathly pale… but he shrugged it off. That’s what an athlete looks like after performing to the limit for 5 hours. “It was a nice day,” he said. “The terrain is what I enjoy driving on and I was getting faster and faster and more confident and even passed Cyril Despres in the Peugeot… but then we had a strange problem. One of the time control officials hit the side window so hard that he broke it and so we had to drive through all of the fine dust with the cabin absolutely full of it. Also, in the fesh fesh we got stuck and lost about 20 minutes getting out, but at least that is to be expected in the Dakar.”
A different closes in on the leaders
In 3rd is someone you might not have heard of before. Dutchman Bernard Ten Brinke has stepped up to the reliable Overdrive Toyota Hi-Lux and has blitzed the first two stages even though his plan was to drive conservatively for until after the marathon stage… We arrived quite late at the camp so the top drivers had already left for the hotel, but I will catch up with him as soon as I can.
Still around was the affable Giles de Villiers from the South Africa Toyota team. “I had a good day! I ended up first on the road and opening the course is always a little harder than following but nothing is wrong with the car and we are where we thought we would be, which is great. And now the longest stage is behind us.”
Leading the stage at CP 6 was his younger team mate Leeroy Pouter, until he got stuck in the dust of Russian Vladimir Vasiliev… who ignored the sentinel alarm many times. Then he heard a noise in the rear suspension so took it a bit easier.
There is no Kangaroo liveried Toyota in the Overdrive camp though. Geoff Olholm was stuck in the same fesh fesh that caught out Vanagas… and quite a few others too. Bryan Garvey has been there for a couple of hours and the camp is eerily quite, so I guess there will be a lot of people struggling back in the dark.
Results are still all provisional but you can find them on the official Dakar site.
Tomorrow is a much easier stage. 220km of gravel and sand. Check back to see what Day 3 will bring!