Chile's young guard
With "Chaleco" Lopez as top billing and the Prohens brothers stably installed in the intermediate positions around thirtieth place, the panorama of the Chilean bikers has more or less been established since the arrival of the Dakar in South America. However, ambitions have been announced and the arrival in Chilean territory has given rise to a notable development. Whilst "Chaleco" Lopez maintains his rank with his 6th place after four stages, the Prohens, performing stoically, are closely followed by Claudio Rodriguez in 35th position or Daniel Gouet in 38th place, but also Ignacio Casale in 39th who also has the distinction of having completed the last Dakar as co-pilot or a T4 truck. "The truck wasn't too bad in the end: there was heating, air-conditioning and a cool-box for beer. Still, I prefer the bike," claims the 24 year old. Jaime Prohens, 30th, and his brother Felipe, 34th, are also in the sights of Andrиs Tamm, 43rd, or even Rodrigo Illanes, 56th, as well as the astonishing sportsman that is Esteban Smith, 61st. For his first Dakar, this engineer who also plays handball as well as Australian rules football in Santiago is doing fairly well and is aiming for a place in the top 50. It would be a nice way of thanking all his work colleagues who clubbed together to provide a part of his budget. "15%. Not bad at all". Behind him still lies Rodrigo Caballero, 66th and further back John McKendrick, 138th. There may be a broad range in their positions, but the Chilean riders are well and truly present.
Enthusiasm in Calama
The arrival of the Dakar on Chilean territory has triggered plenty of enthusiasm amongst the public, just like last year. Arriving early, the inhabitants of Calama wanted to "see everything," according to Rodolfo, who brought his four children, Benjamin, Christopher, Sofia and Rodolfo junior, with him to the entrance to the. The "Calamenos' also wanted to see every single second of Chaleco Lopez's appearance, just like Luis, 14 years old, who for once put down his play-station and brought along with him his sisters and mother, Erika, to see the new symbol of the country's sporting prowess. However, it was the "sporting festival" aspect, according to the expressions of many spectators, which mostly encouraged the tide of locals to come, some of whom stayed until late on to make sure they saw the arrival of the trucks. The slightest dust cloud on the horizon give rise to cries of encouragement, either for Chaleco or for Chile in general, regardless of the competitor in question, making for an excitable but fun atmosphere. The event was of such magnitude that the parish priest of St John the Baptist of Calama also made the journey, "to see these modern adventurers at close quarters". Manuel, 48 years old, was hardly the least overwhelmed faced with these helmeted heroes braving the dust and the wind.
Carlo de Gavardo visits the bivouac
In Calama, yesterday, former biker Carlo de Gavardo reacquainted himself with the landscape of the bivouac and will be doing the same for each day the Dakar spends in Chile, as part of a double partnership. Appointed ambassador for 'Imagen Pais', who officially promote Chilean tourism; Carlo de Gavardo is also lending his image for the Volkswagen Amarok pick-up. This publicity work is well suited to the rider who finished 3rd in the Dakar 2000 in the bike category, thus writing a wonderful page in the history of Chilean sport, a page which may still have room for some more passages: "I still have the competitive spirit in me,", confesses Carlo, who experienced two disappointments in the car category, in 2009 and 2010. "For this edition, I had plans to participate which almost worked, but a part of the budget was missing. In the end, I preferred, after a difficult year for our country, to postpone my comeback for a year".
"Little yellow dune buggy, in the sand..."
On the sand of the bivouac in Calama, the three Optimus are on time, carefully parked in line awaiting the assistance vehicles. These yellow beasties designed by the MD Rally Sport team give an impression of agility. This is exactly what appealed to Gerard Dubuy, a former 4x4 driver converted to the Optimus, for the driving pleasure it provides: "On today's stage, I had a few tiny problems, but I enjoyed myself immensely. I couldn't stop telling myself that I'd never drive a 4x4 again. You see, in this buggy, the driving position is very low and the displacement is significant. As a result, since it's well-balanced, you can get away with a lot of mistakes and I don't feel like I'm taking risks". In addition to more thrills, the Optimus can also be proud of its performances, because the three drivers who have chosen it are currently in the top 40 places in the general standings, with Pascal Thomasse leading the way in 22nd position.