The rooftop of the Dakar Deprived of yesterday's special stage, the contenders of the Dakar had time to enjoy the fabulous landscapes of the Andes. With a 500km liaison to get to Fiambala, the caravan of the Dakar reached its highest point at ...
The rooftop of the Dakar
Deprived of yesterday's special stage, the contenders of the Dakar had time to enjoy the fabulous landscapes of the Andes. With a 500km liaison to get to Fiambala, the caravan of the Dakar reached its highest point at an altitude of 4,700 m when they crossed the Paso San Francisco. The liaison was gorgeous to some, but trickier for others who suffered from altitude sickness: "I had a very bad headache", explains biker David Casteu who will not have been spared since the beginning of the raid. Penultimate in the general standings, Kemal Merkit admits that he fels "totally sleepy, probably because of the altitude." More used to the Canebière than to the Cordilliera, Frenchman Luc Pagnon was rather relieved: "I am already sea-sick; so I'm glad I did not get altitude sickness." For Welshman Craig Bounds, the problem was of a totally different nature: "I was freezing up there." And if the men suffered a bit, the machines certainly did not behave in the same way as they did in the plains: "I had the impression I was riding a moped", summarizes Casteu. "I had to stay in third gear because I lacked so much power," explains Bounds. But one thing is sure: many, like e.g. Nani Roma, did take the time to stop and take a few pictures.
What is the destiny of the cars of the former Dakar winners once they have accomplished their mission for one or two seasons with the manufacturer's team? The evolution of technology makes it most of the time impossible for the old cars to win again but it does not prevent them from taking some very honorable pilots on the trails of more Dakar raids. Hence, the Japanese manufacturer often sells its prototypes together with a batch of spare parts. Price tag for this is between 250,000 and 300,000 EUR for the MPR 10 Pajero that led e.g. Masuoka to victory in 2003. This was the choice of Alexey Berkut who was ranking 29th in the general standings after the Copiapo stage. More ambitious, Guilherme Spinelli invested more than 650,000 EUR in an MPR 13, driven by Masuoka in 2007. This year, the Brazilian had just entered the top 10 when he had to withdraw after a series of sommersault in special stage 6. Finally, amongst the 5 non-manufacturer cars enrolled this year, it's Miroslav Zapletal who is getting the best results: three stages prior to the end of the rally, the Czech driver is 11th in the general standings behind the wheels of an L202 pick-up that used to be driven by Carlos Sousa in the 2003 edition of the Dakar.
This year, 25 quads started the Dakar in Buenos Aires, compared to just a handful of them starting the race in previous years. If the recent craze for these strange machines might be interesting, the experience on the trail prooves that quads are made for the Dakar despite their slow speed. After 10 days in the race, a quick calculation demonstrates that the level of withdrawal in, indeed, lower in quads than in bikes: 14 quads are still in the race at the start in Fiambala, i.e. 56% of the line-up, whilst there are only 118 bikes left out of the 217 enrolled - 53%. More importantly, quad drivers seem to be increasingly competitive as the first of them, Josef Machacek, ranked 65th in the general standings for bikes whereas his present clock would put him in 45th position in the general standings for bikes this year.
The brotherhood of the Tour
They were three at the start... There are only two left in the race. But even two is a pretty amazing number. The big family of the Dakar is also a little bit of the Tour de France family. Indeed, Fabrice Roche, Patrick Sireyjol and Thierry Magnaldi all drive camera-bikes on the most prestigious roads of the bicycle races and all showed up at the start of the rally in Buenos Aires. "It's Fabrice Roche, who has made it his job to drive a camera-bike, who got me into this job, explains Sireyjol. Since then, I have made two Tour de France and racing the Dakar, I get a lot of attention from the cameramen of France Television who are the same ones as on the Tour." If Fabrice Roche, competing in the bike category, was forced to withdraw because of a chest injury, his two palls enrolled in the car category are still in the race and rather high up in the standings even. Sireyjol, who drives a Bowler, is ranking 14th in the general standings, and Magnaldi, in a Gache buggy is ranking 24th. "At night, we tell each other our days, explains 'Magna'. We all had our fair share of bad times. There is no rivalry between us but on the next Tour de France, things might change..."