A different mission for Smulevici He has played the role of young pretender and has also followed, from a distance, the best riders and drivers through sandstorms during the Algerian or Nigerian era of the Dakar. Etienne Smulevici, who boasts a...
A different mission for Smulevici
He has played the role of young pretender and has also followed, from a distance, the best riders and drivers through sandstorms during the Algerian or Nigerian era of the Dakar. Etienne Smulevici, who boasts a 16th placed finish in the final general standings in 2004, has competed in 27 Dakar rallies. He is most proud of his phenomenal success rate, having finished the entire route 19 times. However, this year, the record holder's path has taken a different turn after having been given the mission of providing rapid response assistance to the vehicles of Phillippe Gache's SMG team: "I've been wanting to use my experience to help others for a while. You realise just how useful playing this role is. On the third stage, Philippe had a radiator problem and we towed him 60 kilometres to get to the finishing line. He managed to avoid losing three hours waiting for the T4 truck, which he would have had to wait for if we weren't around". Though Gache has since been forced to withdraw from the race, Smulevici is carrying on the rally with Errandonea and Soloviev as his proteges: "I've stopped several times to help Soloviev. I've helped him save time, but I can't really say that I've got him out of any severely tricky situations. At any rate, it's the first time I've been on the Dakar without worrying about my place in the standings!"
An unexpected return home
Being a Dakar debutant is never a comfortable role. The learning curve is sometimes even painful. Such was the case at the start of the adventure for Gaston Gonzalez and Christian Rudi: "On the first day, we put diesel in the car instead of petrol. The next day, we had electrical problems. And the day after that, for the stage in the dunes around Fiambala, we only had two wheel drive because we broke our driveshaft," explains the co-pilot with a smile. After such a struggle, the two Argentineans managed to reach some sort of cruise speed, but still haven't managed to tame their machine or the Chilean terrain: "In fact, we've had problems almost every day! On the way to Santiago, we lost our rear left wheel and spent three hours toiling away to fix it back on. So, today we are almost in last place, but with all that we've been through, it's already a miracle just to get back home to Argentina".
Olivier Pain, a genuine amateur
You could call it lightning progress, but for Olivier Pain, who has just turned 28, this is no exaggeration. For the rally-raid world champion in the 450cc category in 2009, his Dakar took a spectacular turn after the rest day when he entered the Top 10 of the general standings. "That was my goal," he simply says. It is true that the young rider started his career on the Dakar itself, in 2006, as part of Team Euromaster, in the company of Ludivine Puy and Eric Croquelois, so he knows what he is talking about. And he has the performances to go with it: 28th in 2006 then 16th in 2007. In fact, he has only withdrawn once: last year after a fall when he was in 9th place. "But I'm a genuine amateur. Just like Alain (Duclos)," he states. Between his family's carpentry firm and looking for sponsors (he found thirty locally), time has been at a premium. Consequently, he is delighted with his 8th place: "If I finish in this position in Buenos Aires, then that will do me fine. It's only my 4th rally after all". He could even go one better, and he knows it: "2 or 3 days ago, I was half an hour behind Jonah Street. But now, he's only 7 minutes away..." A last challenge on this Dakar, before meeting another one in 6 months time. "My wife Sandra is expecting, so we'll have to build an extension for the house". As his reputation grows, so does his family...
Santiago pulls out all the stops for the Dakar
Under the white canvas of the Chilean tourist board's tent, as is now customary, every evening at 19.00 the official speeches take place. Yesterday, the Governor of the region and the Regional Director of Sports thanked Etienne Lavigne and made public their wish for the Dakar to return in 2011, in spite of the massive efforts the Chilean capital had to deploy and the race against the clock it was involved in. "We had our first meeting in September, then after that everything went very quickly. I had to supervise a dozen different departments!" Nelson Zarate poured all his energy and that of the sports authorities into making the base camp at Santiago a success: "In total, three different town authorities are involved. The ground had to be flattened and prepared, the sanitary facilities and equipment had to be installed and without the police, we wouldn't have been able to handle all these people". Indeed, 40 kilometres from Santiago, the crowds came in their masses to see the Dakar. "It's the biggest event I've ever had to manage," confesses Nelson Zarate. Etienne Lavigne underlines the, "extraordinary week in Chile that the Dakar has enjoyed". The race seems to be at home here, as if the bivouac was like a family estate.