Jacques Lafitte and Rene Arnoux are paying the Dakar a little visit At the arrival of the special stage in Capiapo, the participants enjoyed the visit of two former F1 drivers who were charmed by the landscapes of Latin America, where they might...
Jacques Lafitte and Rene Arnoux are paying the Dakar a little visit
At the arrival of the special stage in Capiapo, the participants enjoyed the visit of two former F1 drivers who were charmed by the landscapes of Latin America, where they might even be tempted to put on their drivers' overalls again. Jacques Lafitte, who already ventured out on the trails of the Dakar for a short trial in 1988 - he withdrew at stage 4 - would picture himself behind the wheel on this 'new' continent: "this makes me feel like doing it again, but rather as a leisurly journey; I would not be able to get a decent place in the standings of this rally". As to Rene Arnoux, the enthusiasm of the public is part of the temptation to start up a project: "This is new to me and I have the impression it must be great to drive out here; I see there is a lot of people watching and I think car driving is meant to be shared. A Formula One Grand Prix without the public would not have interested me. So the enthusiasm I see here, makes me want to do it." If both former race drivers agree in their analysis, it might be hard to see them in the same car for the start of the 2010 edition of the Dakar: "I could not race with him because he would be scared and so would I, with him... even if he might be the one person I would be safest with," says Jacques Lafitte jokingly.
The sons of Atacama
"You see, there, it's the mountain range where I grew up. It's the far end of the desert where we used to bike and picnic with my friends. The Dakar bivouac is located on what we call the "Base of Puesto 1". 60km down south, it's home, in the "Valle de Copiapo"". Felipe Prohens is on home turf. His brother is by his side sitting in the shade of assistance truck. Felipe is 19th and Jaime is 36th. They are quiet and focused on the challenge of racing their first Dakar. They are also proud. And they don't necessarily want to talk about sport. Jaime names all the barren mountain tops bathing in bright light and beaten by the winds at night: "There, it's the Cerro de Gloria. Behind it you have El Medanaso. The Dakar drives around it. It's impossible to cross over it on a bike; it is the highest sand mountain in the world. And next to it, there is La Ballena." With smiles on their faces, they know they will not gain anything from knowing their land by heart. "Racing these long hours and distances is hard for everyone. Really, all we want is to get to the end." They don't want to talk about the race. They just want to have fun and enjoy the rest of the adventure making the most of their magnificent childhood playground.
Atacama or Sahara?
After a first day in the Atacama desert and the discovery of its sand dunes, one question has been asked to the old wolves of the Dakar who have raced on both continents: do you prefer the Atacama or the Sahara desert? And actually, none really wishes to take a firm stand on the matter. The sand dunes of the Atacama desert have been a thrill ride for most: "It is harder here but it is more beautiful as well," admits rider Norbert Dubois. For Eric Croquelois, a man from Pas-de-Calais who is very much used to the Dakar: "it's like having to choose between your father and your mother. But here it's not sand, it's dust and it's very uneven with a lot of bumps. I must have gotten this close to breaking my neck about 20 times." More technical is South-Africa's Alfie Cox who is now racing in a buggy after two years on a bike:" there is more vegetation and there are more stones in the dunes, so things are easier. But dunes are longer and higher here compared to the Saharaa where they are shorter but steeper..."
Isidre Esteve, pleasure as an engine
Under the Atacama sun, the team is happy: Isidre is on his way; it's 6:30PM. It's the first time that everthing is ok. No reaching the bivouac in the middle of the night. No squeezing in just a few hours of sleep. No hard times with mechanical repairs. "It's good to arrive by daylight," just says the old biker. So far, his first Dakar in a car since his crash has been for the disabled driver an interesting return to his first love: "my car is new on this raid. And so are we." Tonight, Isidre Esteve is not talking about his electrical problems, or about the truck that hit his car from behind, or about the shorter nights, so much needed by his injured body who has to rest if he wants to start the race the next day, or about the sometimes very insistant will for it to stop and to withdraw from the raid. Tonight, the Catalan press is there. There is a nice atmosphere, like a family get-together. Lidia, his girlfriend, has been quick at doing the maths: "We will be leaving after the interviews. We eat, then he can stretch and rest. So far it has been way too hard for him." A little higher in the standings, a little more at ease, the champ is all smiles: "The pleasure to drive is back. That's just what I need." Lidia is smiling too: "Our only goal is to finish every evening just like we did today."