The rally starts with early photo opportunities, briefings and the ceremonial start downtown Buenos Aires. The crowds in the streets will slow down the day's liaison, reason for the Team Honda Europe truck to sneak out as early as possible in order to prepare bivouac. In contrast, the fast assistance Land Cruiser will catch the riders as they leave town, staying close behind the four riders. Both the truck and the fast assistance car were thoroughly repacked, as well as two so-called aircraft boxes filled with parts. If the truck is unable to reach bivouac in time, the mechanics in the fast assistance car can reach in these aircraft boxes that are kept with the organizers. The history of these aircraft boxes originates in Africa, where air transport of assistance crews was quite usual. In South America, these crews and their parts and tools are all road-transported. Yesterday, the riders had their last day of preparation. As far as temperatures allow, some sleep and in any case some leisure time. For the next two weeks, the race takes priority.
Scrutineering December 31
No one had expected what chores awaited the team at this year's scrutineering. While the administrative controls went smooth for riders and assistance team alike, the technical side proved not so much complicated as labour-intensive. It had happened before that replacement engines were to be presented to the officials of the rally. With flawless documentation, the team hoped to avoid this procedure. Last year, officials suggested to Team Honda Europe manager Henk Hellegers that providing a list with all manufacturer's engine block numbers would suffice.
In fact, the primary officials leaned towards accepting this documentation. The aim is to allow for just two replacements for each rider.
Unfortunately, the presiding official had devised a scheme of his own to catch cheaters, no more than a couple of weeks before and kept secret until today. It involved applying a secret-mixture paint on each block and scratching in identification numbers. The documentation that seemed acceptable to the organizers last year, does indeed allow for sharing engines between riders. While officials would notice extensive work on engines in bivouacs, one could use more than the allowed three engines (new or rebuilt) or two engine swaps if it could be done secretly.
Mechanic Marcel Bulten reflects that actually the more strict procedure gives an advantage to the justly famed Honda engines. Other brands regularly needed more engines to finish a Dakar Rally in the past, while Honda engines lasted longer. Marcel feels that competing brands could suffer from reliability problems that can no longer be masked by proactive swapping of engines. This heightens the rally spirit.
One may notice the yellow background of Quinn Cody's competition number 15. This indicates that the organizers rank him among their elite group of very fast, very experienced riders. All have real chances of victory, while their skills allow for greater speed with less navigational errors. On the downside, this acknowledgement of Quinn as one of the elite, also involved another even more strict control of the number of engines he can use. Technicians Gerrit Polsvoort and Marcel Bulten were asked to remove one of the essential engine-to-frame mounting bolts. It was replaced by a longer piece from the spares that parts manager Hans Polsvoort keeps in store. This bolt was modified with a small hole to accept the organiser's securing wire. Whenever the fastening nut needs to be loosened for an engine swap or major repair, the wire will break. The team is required to notify officials before such work is undertaken.
The truck had been packed for the rally the day before, with the replacement engines buried deep below some seventy motorcycle tyres. These had to be unloaded in the scrutineering area, and each engine lifted from its box and shown to officials. After just minutes, the whole job was undertaken in reverse order. Loading the tyres proved even harder on the backs, not the minds, of Benno Roosen and Luuc Botter. They will be dreaming tyres for some days to come... if they catch sleep at all.