Facing the unknown is part of the game when you take on Dakar.
Montreal - Canadians David Bensadoun and Patrick Beaulé of the ALDO Dakar Racing Team, have left for South America to compete in the 37th running of the Dakar Rally Raid, the longest annual off-road race in the world, scheduled to take place January 4-17, 2015. For the fourth time in their career, they will face the unknown during 13 days of rough unmarked terrain battling for top honour against amateur teams registered in their class: cars, prototypes and pick-up trucks.
A total of 414 vehicles, split into four classes - 164 motorcycles, 138 cars, prototypes and pick-up trucks, 48 ATV Quads, and 64 Active Roadside Assistance Truck, are entered in the event. 665 registered participants will take the start in the world-renowned event on January 4, 2015 in Buenos Aires.
The unknown, the vast expanse of the unmarked deserts, the return trip Marathon stages at mid-point, the extreme heat and the constant dust that blinds both driver and navigator, are some of the challenges awaiting Bensadoun and Beaulé as they will drive their ALDO Toyota Tacoma Overdrive number 380 during 9,111 kilometres on a quest through Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. They will tackle 4,578 km of rally raid special stages on rocky trails, dirt tracks and dunes.
In terms of terrain, the dunes are the biggest challenge as a driver because the risk of a rollover is constant.
Facing the challenges at the Dakar is the reason why Bensadoun competes in the event. "This will sound nuts but I look forward to the really tough moments because that's where Pat and I do our best. I also visualize the feeling of being on liaison after the stage is over. It's a great moment of satisfaction and freedom knowing you finished another day and can actually look around and eat something!"
Extreme heat is the worst nightmare at the Dakar for 6 foot 5 David Bensadoun. "The very hot days where we are driving in difficult terrain are really tough. In normal heat I can concentrate for 3-4 hours for fast driving but when the temperature gets above 45c in the cockpit, which means more than 50 degrees in the cabin, it's very hard to concentrate at all and you seem to go into a kind of survival mode trying to conserve physical and mental energy.
In terms of terrain, the dunes are the biggest challenge as a driver because the risk of a rollover is constant. The other risk is getting stuck because it makes the co-driver very angry, as he will have to shovel the Toyota out that quagmire!"
There is no virtual course on the Internet, and pre-rally reconnaissance tours are strictly forbidden. Of course, GPS devices are banned.
"As the navigator, my biggest difficulty at the Dakar remains the unknown we face every day," says Patrick Beaulé who receives his Route Book notes from the organizers at 9:00 p.m. on the eve of the next rally day. "The only things we know in advance are: where we start, at what time and where we will finish the day. As far as the rally course itself, we know as much as the general public who has access to this information from the organizers who published a map containing no specific details.
That map does not tell us the type of sand we will be running on, or if it is a rocky road. There is no virtual course on the Internet, and pre-rally reconnaissance tours are strictly forbidden. Of course, GPS devices are banned."
If heat sand dunes haunt driver Bensadoun, very rough rocky roads is another issue of Beaulé's. "Rocky roads become boulder filled and impassable following the repetitive passages of vehicles that precede ours, especially the big 6x6 all-wheel drive T4 roadside assistance trucks weighting over 3,500 kg (7,700 lb) each," continues Beaulé.
"Sitting on the passenger side with nothing to hold on to, I bounce from my seat like a yo-yo. It makes for a very difficult reading of the Route Notes I have to relay to David. All this bumping and weaving also give me a seasick feeling. Driving at 70 kph on these roads also has devastating fatigue effects on suspension parts and the chassis."
The return Marathon stages on Day 7 and 8 (January 10-11) between Iquique, Chile and Uyuni, Bolivia also seems to be a concern for the ALDO Team as they will be on their own to fix their vehicles prior to the return trip to Iquique. "The marathon run will be a huge test of man and machine," concludes Bensadoun. "It means that we'll be sleeping in a very rough camp overnight without some of the spare parts or mechanical support. In a marathon stage, we will have to be the mechanics! The best approach will be to drive very carefully so that we minimize the work to be done."
The 2015 Dakar Rally will cross the Andes Mountain range twice during their trek across Argentina, Chile and Bolivia from January 4th to the 17th.