Argentina, Bolivia y Chile - 4 al 17 de enero











10- #320 - CHABOT (FRA) PILLOT (FRA) - SMG



13- #332 - ZHOU (CHN) SCHULZ (DEU) - MINI

































46- #350 - ALCARAZ (FRA) - POLARIS






















¿Listos? ¡Ya!

Gran salida del Dakar 2015 el pasado domingo 4 de enero desde Buenos Aires (Argentina)

Crónica de Robb Pritchard

¡Los vencedores del Dakar 2015!
¡Los vencedores del Dakar 2015!

Day 14

With the slippery surface on the stage yesterday there was a lot of panel damage and several piles of discarded doors and wings were lying on the horse racing track in Rosario this morning. Our last night sleeping on camp beds out in the open and hopefully the last of the 5 hours of sleep. 

Benediktas Vanagas gave his mechanics a bit of a test last night and the bent shed they started with looked like a Toyota again come dawn. I knocked the ants out of my laptop bag and then it was back in the convoy again, down streets like with enthusiast flag wavers who’d got up early to see us pass. A little rain shower swept across the farmland landscape but evidently it fell a little harder over the course. We pulled up at the press point wondering why it seemed so quiet… it was because the final stage had been shortened because parts of it were more like the Croatia Trophy than the Dakar. The last hurrah of the insanely tough 2015 Dakar was just 34km long. 

The GPS was reprogrammed back to Technopolis where we started this mad trip two weeks ago and the podium where 67 of the 148 starters pulled up onto the arch. In the hall before the final scrutineering I caught up with some of the drivers. Being congratulated by everyone who walked past was of course newly crowned Nasser Al-Attiyah and I asked him how he felt. “It feel fantastic. It’s such a good feeling and in Qatar there is a big celebration now, the phone keeps ringing all the time. This year it feels a lot different to the first win. That was nice but this feels special because we controlled the event from the first to the last. And what next? Well, preparations for the 2016 Dakar start in a couple of weeks. I will do the Middle East rally championship and the WRC teaches me speed and I will also do events in the FIA Cross Country World Cup. Last year we missed the title by a couple of points so I would like to do a little better…”

Stephane Peterhansel was also in a really positive mood. “11th this year feels much better than 2nd in 2014 and I am really excited to be part of the new Peugeot history. I am also happy for Nasser and he was the logical winner as he has the fastest car and a really good co-driver… but next year I hope we’ll make it a little harder for him. Two months ago we couldn’t do 200km of testing without some technical problem so to get two cars back is very, very positive. Also Carlos Sainz retired after a crash, it was nothing mechanical. So now we will have some work on the chassis, the engine and the tyres and maybe next time we will be 2% or 5% faster. We’ll see.”

Winner of the T2 class for standard cars is unsurprisingly Jun Mitsuhashi who now has 5 class victories to his name. On the rest day he told me that he was so accustomed to leading the class and winning that it was hard to keep his motivation… and not concentrating on a tricky dune, he rolled. “Then in the next days when I was in the dust of other cars I had to concentrate, but these 5 wins are enough for me now. Maybe I will work as a support car or a driver teacher in the future. Now I don’t know, but 5 wins is enough!”

Not looking as relaxed as I would have thought seeing that he went through so much, driving the last 5 days with a broken arm, but Beneditkas in the black No 339 car made it back to the finish. “I will finally relax only after the podium,” he said. “The event is so hard to do but is somehow like Stockholm Syndrome because very soon I’ll be dreaming about coming back again. This time we didn’t really get the result that we were hoping for… but I suppose that everyone that came after Nasser will say the same thing. We came away with a lot of experience though which is very valuable and we will include this in our plans for next year.”

Just ahead of them heading into the scrutineering hall was the blue buggy of Antonio Hasbun, playing a game of who can make the best echoes with their V8s with Guerlain Chicherit. Their secret plan for the event was to drive conservatively and make it look like they were having a lot of problems everywhere to lull pretty much the whole field into a false sense of security and then go for a massive and unresistable attack for the overall win on the final day. Unfortunately having the stage cut short didn’t help them claw back any of the 48 ½ hours and while they were trying to pull themselves out of a ditch the rapid Qatari actually eked out another 37 minutes to finish with a margin just a little over 2 days. “I am ready to sign up again,” co-driver Bryan Garvey smiled. There are some ASO officials surprised that they made it back to Buenos Aires, but take a bow on the podium they did!

Today’s stage win was taken by Robby Gordon who couldn’t wait for the champagne to celebrate and did donuts on the motorway. 

I am more tired than I have ever been in my life and I was just press in the back of a car, so I can’t imagine how some of the drivers must feel. With plenty of highs and lows, tragedy and triumph, determination and heart-break another Dakar draws to a close. The cars are going over the podium but after spending two weeks watching them race in some of the most spectacular places on earth I can skip that to get a few extra hours of sleep!

Congratulations to Nasser Al-Attiyah for making the 2015 Dakar his own, to all that took the fight to him, to those that make it to the end, for those who tried and for those who started. I’ll see you all next year. To quote a wise man, I am ready to sign up again! 10 days to chill out in Buenos Aires and then it’s off to King of the Hammers. You are welcome to join me there!

I need to say thank you to Benediktas Vanagas for giving me this amazing opportunity, to Gedmus for keeping me sane in the back of the Land Cruiser, for Carlos for looking after us all and for anyone who read anything I wrote! Thanks to you for following me around South America these last two weeks. 


Dakar 2015
Dakar 2015

Day 13

298km on dirt and gravel roads through farmland and over a couple of hills. No dunes, no fesh fesh, no navigating across barren desert. What could go wrong?

Another before dawn start, packing away a damp sleeping bag, (I’ve learned that dew in Lithuanian is Rasa), a quick breakfast and some extra buns taken for lunch seeing as press are still not worthy of getting a snack box,and then off south in the gathering light. The Ghostbusters theme is the first thing on the stereo. Our driver loves single lane highways. They give him the perfect opportunity to show off his road rage skills. Seatbelts securely fastened we invented a new game to replace I Spy (which has been banned in the car for over a week.) We awarded him points for every on-coming car he forced off the road, red lights he ran and how many policemen shook their fists at him (3). He has learned that Dakar traffic is immune to local traffic laws. There was good cell coverage so I took my mind off impending twisted metal death by chatting to friends on Facebook and snoozing until 420km down the road we found ourselves at the time controls at the end of the stage. Somewhere in central Argentina it was a glorious summer’s day. The smell of grass and pollen and the smoke of BBQs. If Argentineans sit down outside for more than 20 minutes they have to start roasting meat. Butterflies fluttered in the dust dragged up by the last of the bikers and the young girls squealed with joy when a quad rider came over to sign an autograph. Thanks to the good internet we could see the live timing and saw that car 339 was in 5th. But then there was a MINI coming and the quad rider was hastily shooed away by the officials to make way for the champion elect at the time control. Numbers noted down, card stamped and then Nasser Al-Attityah pulled up in the interview area where some sort of unspoken hierarchy of cameramen is in play as they jostle around with bulky machines on their shoulders. I have no idea who is more important than who so I keep back out of sight and just listen.

Getting out of the car as fresh as though he’d just popped down to the shops Al-Attityah said, “I had to go fast today because if you slow down you start to loose concentration and think about other things. But we did well, no one else caught us. Everything is working 100% for us this year.” A couple of minutes behind was the sister MINI of Orlando Terranova, who won the stage, and like yesterday, quite a gap back to the first Toyota which was South African Giles de Villiers. “We reduced the speed quite a lot because we can’t catch Al-Attiyah and on a fast stage like this it’s easy to make a mistake. It was very slippery and there were lots of rocks at the side of the road so I took it quite easy. We need to get to the podium tomorrow and have one more stage to do.”

Dutch Toyota Bernard Ten Brinke was another driver happy to get to the end of the last tough Dakar stage. “I am quite happy with the event overall. We can see that I can do times like the top guys, we had a 3rd place twice and if we hadn’t have lost an hour and a half with the driveshaft problem that cost an hour and a half we would have been 4th. But we are happy with 7th.”

The beautiful Peugeot 2008 DKR came over the line with Stephane Peterhansel ready for a cold Red Bull from one of the pretty girls dispensing the chilled cans. “The stage was fast and we were sliding a lot but now we have a lot more info and for next year I am sure that we’ll be ready for the fight.” The bright orange Gordini of Robby Gordon came into view with the customary cries from the excited local fans. “It was fast but very slippery, one of the most slippery of the whole rally but out Toyo tyres are really great, they wear really, really well but for today I think they were a bit too hard for the stage.” The French reporters pulled away a twig that was stuck on the Re-Play camera mounting. “Yes, we had a bit of an off track excursion but 8th place today should be considered a success. The Gordini is plenty fast enough but we have some work to do on it. But if you take away the 5:20 of problems we had we’d be on the podium not in 20th.”

Guerlain Chicerit in the zebra painted buggy was next in line. “Getting here I can only say is positive because there were so many times I thought that we wouldn’t make it. Ten times we’ve changed the power steering

pump in a stage and each time takes an hour and a half, twice we broke the clutch and one of those times we fixed it in the stage. You have to take the gearbox out to do it, but we managed it in an hour and fifteen minutes which wasn’t so bad. Also, we had a broken gearbox, which we also fixed in the stage, the diff... oh, and one day the fuel blew out of the tank and caused a big fire. That took 5 hours to fix… and many small things as well. So I mean it when I say it’s really good to almost see the end!” Two green Ivecos came in first in the truck class followed by the three Kamaz. I was 10 metres away from them on a stage a few days ago but today I wasn’t paying attention and nearly had my feet run over. Still, was a cool experience! But there was bad news for the Lithuanians. The great time for CP4 wasn’t repeated for CP5… in fact Benediktas Vanagas was missing. A text from Vilnius told us that he’d rolled. Several cars came through with damage, Marek Dobrowski and Mark Powell came in with a lot of the side of the car missing, so too a Russian Hi-Lux and a couple of trucks.

Finally, the bent black Toyota came in and we got the story. “The stage was a technical one but it was quite dangerous as the roadbook had several mistakes, some marked distances were wrong and dangerous sections were not written at all. At the finish journalists told us that quite a few teams had crashed and I am not surprised. Our overall position is what it is so today I was driving just for the pleasure of it but in one corner we went in a little too hard and pulled the tyre off the rim which tipped us into a roll. It was quite a job to get the car back on its wheels and then we had to kick out the front window as it was smashed, but when we started again the engine would only give about 15% of throttle before it cut out which is why we lost a lot of time. Fortunately we only lost one position overall. Tonight the mechanics will be busy but tomorrow we have the last stage to do… and then to stand on the finish podium!”

We’re now driving towards Rosario, the evening turning into night. 739km done so far today, 168 to go. Benediktas told me what happened by sms while driving down the motorway in goggles because he has no

windscreen. According to the GPS we’ll get into the camp just before midnight but then it’s the grand finale, the shortest stage of the whole event with just 174km before a cruise into the city for the finish podium.

Fingers crossed that Antonio and Bryan drove around the gearbox issues and made it through.

A fat lady in Buenos Aires is warming up her vocal chords because tomorrow she sings. 


Dakar 2015
Dakar 2015

Day 12

The campsite was indeed flooded. On the road into Salta last night road workers were flagging us down to be careful of the deep water that was coming off the sodden fields. The camp was in some sort of conference centre car park so at least we were on concrete and not in deep mud. Neither Gedmus nor I could work out if the lake in the middle of the grass was supposed to be there or not but the river flowing off it wasn’t. It must have been a very big storm!

A couple of weeks ago now Nani Roma’s MINI let him down in the first 10km of the event and yesterday the Spanish driver got his revenge on it by destroying The ALL4 in a series of barrel rolls. X-Raid team mate Nasser Al-Attiyah, despite saying that he would take it easy, won the stage and now the likable Qatari has nearly a 30 minute advantage with 3 days to go. And one of those is the reverse running of the impossible to overtake on first stage. If a Chilean shaman gave Giles de Villiers a voodoo doll MINI now is the time to start sticking pins in it. 

If some stages before had a festival atmosphere today was a picnic scene. A dense woodland, a little river smelling of sulphur from near by hot springs and the local Argentineans making BBQs on the banks. We were 2 hours early so had plenty of time to lounge in the shade and bang on schedule Al-Attiyah came around the corner, but slow. Something was obviously wrong, but he was still first on the road so it must just have happened… but then we realised that we’d been waiting in a neutralised zone. It was a bit of an anti-climax but hitting the water at 50km/h still made a big enough splash to make the locals cheer. Orlando Terranova was 3 minutes behind but there was a 10 minute gap to a couple of Toyotas together… but there was some news for us too. A certain Lithuanian driver with a fractured arm was 4th at CP2.

The service park is in the paddock of a race track. It hosts the WTCC but after the Dakar’s little visit it will need some serious landscaping to fill in the ditches that T4 truck wheels have made in the damp grass. Big news tonight is also sad news. One of the stars of the show, rookie Yazeed Al-Rahji, is out. The engine had a misfire yesterday and although they won’t know the exact cause until they strip it down they suspect that an electrical fault caused the engine to go. An Overdrive guy explained that of course the Saudi driver is disappointed but he’s proud of what he achieved.

Al-Rajhi’s demise means that Poland’s X-Raid driver Krzysztof Holowczyc gets a promotion to the podium. “I was always the one who had bad luck and gave places away so maybe this time I get it back,” he said. “On Stage 2 I lost 20 minutes when I only had front wheel drive and from then I completely changed my strategy. I would just keep to my own speed and just keep going. If you look you’ll see 4th, 5th, 4th, 5th, 6th… nothing special, but this plan for a long race is working. But it is not over yet we have 2 stages to go. We make sure that the car is as good as new every morning and I am not nervous, I am just doing my job.”

Another relaxed guy is Al-Attiyah. “We had a good day today but whenever you win a stage that you open it’s good, although I wasn’t trying to, just today everything worked well.” And then he told me that he liked my stories! “Yes, my press guy Marcin sends me the links everyday. I like what you write.” Well, if you are reading this, I hope you know that means a lot. 

Also, I’m going to ask for a hat tomorrow for my friend Edgar who collects them, so if someone is reading this and knows in which box they are kept…

Running along half naked with a big smile on his face was Antonio Hasbun driver of the No 430 buggy. He only likes the reports on the Top Gear website, unlike Nasser he doesn’t read mine, so I can write anything I like about him and he won’t ask for his sleeping bag back! American co-driver Bryan Garvey explained that even though the event is winding down it is still a long way from being easy. “The stage was more for rally cars today and as we don’t have a sway bar the car really leans in the corners, but about half way through we lost 3rd gear and then 4th started being a little funny. And then 6km from the end we lost the brakes.”

“But that’s no big deal,” Antonio added. “Apart from the first time you find out that you have no brakes. But tonight we’ll change the oil, try to get what used to be 3rd gear out with a magnet and then just take it easy…”

But big news, not just for the Lithuanian team I am following the event with, but for the whole of the Dakar, is that Benediktas did finish 4th today. 1 second behind de Villiers. With a fractured arm. I don’t write press releases and I hope after the last 12 days my integrity can be trusted, but I have to say that I am utterly impressed and certainly from what I’ve seen, especially as he was nearly unconscious at the stage finish a couple of days ago, this must be one of the stories of the Dakar. “We are a small team and because it’s nearly the end of the event today we were running on second-hand tyres that already had about 400km on them, so all the stage I could really feel the lack of grip. That cost us at least 2 minutes. Also, for 30km we were in the dust fighting to get past a buggy, so when I looked at the time and saw we were just 1 second away from 3rd and 30-something from the win…” 

And what about the broken arm? “The first stage I drove with it I already worked out a way to rest it against the steering wheel to hold it steady while I change gear. I can’t grip it, but it works. But today we had a hard hit and it got knocked… it was quite hard to drive after that. But when it happened I said that we would continue!”

I am writing this sitting next to the No 339 Toyota with the mechanics running through the daily checks and have the amazing luxury of uploading photos where I sit! No need to curb-crawl the back streets of a random Argentinean town looking for wi-fi this evening! Tomorrow is a bastard long 1024km from camp to camp with a 298km special of gravel and dirt in the middle. The dodgy English in the Dakar guidebook warns of combatitive drivers and surprising vegetation but definitely suggests a very late arrival at the next bivouac. See you there!

Photo credits. Robb Pritchard and Race Dezert

Dakar 2015
Dakar 2015

Day 11

We’re counting backwards now. It’s not Day 11, it’s 4 days to go! …and counting. Last night’s campsite was cold and dusty so I was glad to be in a hotel with the team and we stayed in some kind of eco-pod. I had 7 amazing hours in bed… which in the Dakar means something different to what you would normally think!

Our driver’s attitude to touring bikers on the road is cause for alarm but the most unforgivable thing about him is that the music collection for the car consists of one single CD. And it has not one, but two versions of the Ghostbusters theme on it. Three times a day for 10 days. At 6:30 this morning in the weak Argentinean dawn I had Slayer on my Mp3 player to compensate. ‘Who you gonna call?’ ‘…satan!’

Before today’s 387km stage we crossed the Andes, (It seems incredible that sentences like that have become completely normal.) spending a long time on a high plateau at above 4000m. Being short of oxygen makes me feel like I am panicking and also makes everyone’s bladders ineffective. A bottle of water feels like I’ve drunk a few cans of Stella! 

A few kilometres before the start the drivers congregated in a garage forecourt to check tyre pressures, have a coffee, nap and chat. Nasser Al-Attiyah has seemed relaxed all week but now is even more so after the navigation issues rival de Villiers suffered yesterday. “Today all we have to do is stay behind Nani Roma and be careful. But from the beginning I have had a good feeling about this year’s race.”

Guerlain Chicherit was sleeping in his zebra buggy and Benediktas Vanagas, normally chatty and full of energy, said, “I’ll tell you this evening,” when I asked him how he was feeling. The radiator was damaged in the ram-raid accident yesterday, stopping to fill it with water was what caused most of the time loss. But all fired up and nappied was Mark Powell in the 311 who looks a bit more at home in the No 311 Toyota now. Gone is the shell-shocked stare of the first few days! “I am refreshed after the rest day and am raring to go! Yesterday our time didn’t reflect the day we had. Marek Dobrowski was in Dubai for a while testing in the dunes o he is good in the sand and we got the tricky WP that quite a few people had real problems finding. But then we found Christian Laville 20km from the end we towed him back. It cost us a lot of time, but that’s what you do for team mates. Today I am looking forward to a good fast stage through the mountains!” 

Leading Frenchman Laville is in a career best 6th overall but had a big scare yesterday when he ran out of fuel. He waited 20 minutes stranded until team mates Marek and Mark stopped and towed him to the finish. “Because of the bad time yesterday I start 23rd today so will have some trouble in the dust. What I need to do to keep my position is keep finishing in 8th, 9th or 10th everyday so I can start in the 3 minute intervals. And 6th position isn’t so bad when you consider that I am in the 1st generation Toyota, not a new one.”

The 387km stage started in a riverbed and then wound up through some cliffs on a really fast track. The locals were playing music, making BBQs, waving flags and finding the place that was exactly in front of my shot to stand for their selfies. I was listening for the engine sounds again but I didn’t know that the trucks were starting in with the cars. The Kamaz echoing off the rocks. Magic. 

Our guy Benediktas Vanagas started in 45th so that gave a great opportunity to sit and watch the mid-fielders… Bryan Garvey sped past but the one I was waiting for, Stephan Henrad in the VW Buggy didn’t come. Something much have happened to him yesterday. I will find out as soon as I can. There are still plenty of trucks in the event. Watching the queue of them start off, totting airhorns at the locals was another Dakar highlight. 

On the road down to Salta we saw the Dakar timekeepers unexpectedly as the cars were neutralised for the road across a big salt flat. We took a few nice photos and then Benediktas came through, much earlier than we expected. Either he was drawing on his inhuman reserves of determination or the painkillers are really working well. 

It was a 700km drive today but again the landscape make the miles pass almost un-noticed. At 4700m we went over a pass straight into a blanket of impenetrable fog. My Lithuanian friends don’t have misty mountains where they live and were jumping out to take photos, but for me, it looked just like Wales! The road winding down must have gone around 50 hairpins… and then we found a little oasis, a sweet café in the valley with soft couches on a veranda… and fast wifi! And here we found out that there is a big storm in Salta and the campsite is flooded. Of course ur reaction was to immediately order coffees and beers and make ourselves comfortable.

Some other news we got is that somehow, incredibly, with a broken arm, Benediktas has finished 15th today. We’re all lounging around here listening to the birds in the bushes by the little river with no idea how he managed it. I guess in a while we’ll have to go down to the bivouac and see what is happening, but we are familiar with the Argentinean internet capabilities… so maybe there will be a fuller update later… or maybe not. This is the Dakar!

Photo credits. Robb Pritchard and Race Dezert

Dakar 2015
Dakar 2015

Day 10

After a few days down in Iquequi the air back up in the foothills of the Andes feels crisp and fresh. It was a civilised start time too as the start of the stage was only 36km out of town. The track looked like it had been used a few times before as the surface had been stripped bare down to the rough looking rocks underneath, maybe by the big tyres and drafts of the trucks. 

After his stage win the day before the rest day Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rahji was first away, his first experience of opening a Dakar stage, and at 450km a very big one to open! Locked into their intense battle for the lead Nasser Al Attiyah and Giles de Villiers came through separated by the three minute interval, both behind a slower Orlando Terranova. Slowest of them all though was Robby Gordon as maybe there is something wrong with the engine again. At the end of the marathon stage he had oil pressure problems. He came by not pushing it over a couple of thousand of revs. 

Doing much better than expected seeing as his left arm, the one that holds the steering wheel while the other one changes gear, is broken, was Belediktas Vanagas. We were standing about 2km into the stage though, so there were only 448 to go!

After 10 days Gedmus and I can tell which engine sound is for which cars. The Mini’s are unspectacularly quiet, the Toyota’s have that beautiful roar of a high revving V8 and if we heard a chattering growl and wonder ‘What the heck is that?’ it’s normally a Peugeot. 

Further on the course crossed the main road at a time control at the end of a kilometre long straight. We caught the latter half of the Top 15 or 20, the last of the MINIs and some MD buggies. Stephane Henrad in the VW Buggy was going exceptionally well… but unfortunately our guy Benediktas Vanagas wasn’t. An email from Lithuania sent to the Chilean desert told us that he was off the road and the front of the car was smashed. I hoped that he hadn’t hurt his arm any more. 

For a better photo I walked away from the main road into a truly bizarre landscape. It looked like it was a big salt lake but the surface was all rough and churned up like it had been ploughed. Endless fist sized lumps of salt have been weathered into strange twisted shapes but from all around it crackles… like I’d just put milk on my Rice Crispies. Very strange. So weird in fact that according the GPS map it was a national park!

Bernard Ten Brinke in the 315 Toyot must have had a problem and was trying to make up time because he was absolutely tearing along the track and then I had the privilege of standing 10 metres away from the leading Kamaz as it barrelled along, clattering like a turbo-charged Victorian printing press. 

I saw American Bryan Garvey in the No 430 Buggy again, although instead of waving they should have been looking for one of the Kamazs looming up in the mirror. Oh, and they didn’t just change the body work yesterday to make it pretty, it fell off somewhere in Bolivia. 

Benediktas came through near the tail end of the field with a sizeable chunk of the front missing, including one of the Wilderness Lighting stickers I spent my last evening in Iquequi getting printed. The lights themselves were still working fine! Once he’d passed we were back in the car for the short little 300km jaunt to the next bivouac with me and Gedmus writing and sorting out photos, me listening to Black Sabbath (yes, the Tony Martin era. Bite me!), and looking at the distant plumes of dust being kicked up over the desert. 

A few hundred kilometres of mountainy desert landscape later and in a narrow, dusty valley we pulled up and waited for the black Hi-Lux. It was a long wait. Backmarkers came in one by one, a few bikers and some trucks and then with a Lithuanian exclamation of happiness Benediktas pulled up to the stop control. He wasn’t celebrating though and was slumped in his seat, last reserves of energy and pain tolerance used up to get him to the finish. And it wasn’t a weak grip on the steering wheel that caused the crash, like we suspected, but someone reversing flat out from a sandpit. 

Of course, it was very late when we got into camp, just in time to see a stunning Andean sunset outside of the mining city of Calama. The printed out provisional leaderboard looks very interesting with the gap that had been pegged at under 10 minutes for a long time now opened out to over 20, but unfortunately I have no idea why. Everyone from both X-Raid and Overdrive had already gone off to get some well-deserved sleep in some nearby hotels. (Apparently I had the room next to Robby Gordon last night, but he wasn’t a rowdy neighbour.)

I did manage to find the lovely Cecile from Peugeot and found out that Stephane Peterhansel’s poor time today was due to a broken rear hub that meant there was no drive. There were many positives to take form the day for a team on an extensive and high-profile testing exercise though. Co-driver jean-Paul Cottret managed to fix it with just the tools they had in the car and at the 8th out of 9 waypoints they were running just 38 seconds behind the leader. Also, Cyril Depres got his best result of the event with a possible 9th once some people are given penalties. 

After getting my passport stamped again I found a very dusty Bryan Garvey in the canteen and caught up on the last few days of exploits. If the marathon stage wasn’t hard enough already they did the whole two days without a clutch! “It was hard to concentrate because there was no way we could get into reverse so if we went off that would be it,” said driver Antonio Hasbun “And 6km of the stage was up a river and it was freeeezing!” Byran added. Today they were doing very well until they got stuck on a dune. “We had some traction and were about to reverse out but then someone banged into the back of us and we were both stuck. So we had to get out and dig them out and then they pulled us out. That took an hour, but we were doing really well before that.” The time sheets say that they still came in a respectable 40th. 

I also need to say a huge thank you to their chase crew who gave a sandwich to a starving Welshman at the finish line! That was magic, guys!

As Benediktas staggered up the ladder to sleep in a roof tent on top of the service truck Gedmus asked, “So what about tomorrow? Are you still going?” “Of course,” was the barely audible answer. It’s good that after a week and a half of the Dakar I can still be surprised and impressed. Despite the drama he came in 45th today, dropping down to 24th overall. 

And in the hotel I have wifi… so if this is your only daily Dakar update, de VIlliers had trouble looking for a WP in the dust and has basically conceded the event, Al-Rajhi lost all of his brakes and drove 250km with practically no stopping power and lost 27 minutes but is still ahead of Krzysztof Kolowczyc by over an hour, and despite starting off slow Robby Gordon sped up in the rest of the stage to take 8th. 

Tomorrow we cross the Andes again back into the internet black hole of Argentina so we can only keep our fingers crossed that we can find a petrol station with wifi in the evening. 

Photo credits. Robb Pritchard and Race Dezert

Dakar 2015
Dakar 2015

Day 9

Today was actually one of my favourite days. It’s amazing to be driving through the Andes and standing next to the track watching the Dakar cars pass before you in trails of dust, but I like having the time to wonder around talking to all the people I’ve not had time to catch up with all week. 

Next door to us in the Iquequi camp are the Polaris team. When cars and trucks struggle with the terrain you might be forgiven for thinking that attempting the Dakar in something so diminutive that it doesn’t even have a gearbox is just a bit mad. But no, Jes Munk from Denmark has a perfectly plausible plan. “I always rode bikes but two years ago I had a big accident and broke 60 bones in my body and spent 14 days in a coma so a Polaris is the best compromise for me because I just want to come back to the Dakar. But for me to tell you the story of the first half of the rally… I don’t know where to start. I can just say that we are here at the rest day so the first part of the plan is done, now we just need to get to the finish. We are having a great time and have nothing seriously wrong with the Polaris, just a couple of belts and tyres and in Bolivia is was hard because it was so wet and cold and we had altitude sickness. But Americans need to know that this is perfect for a Polaris to race here!”

The Polaris is a pretty spectacular machine. If you haven’t seen this amazing video of one flying Ken Block style, see video below.  

A few pits further on are the Japanese Toyota Bodyshop team and Jun Mitsuhashi was boiling up some noodles next to his T2 production class leading Toyota Land Cruiser. “Yes, we are first in class, but you know that it’s normal for me. Actually I won T2 so many times it’s hard for me to keep motivation. My team mate is a couple of hours behind and we are about 10 hours ahead of the 3rd placed car which is good but it has not been an easy rally. I was ill at the start and the first stage took absolutely everything out of me and I didn’t get better for about 4 days. Then we lost a radiator in SS3 which cost some hours. Also two times we broke the power steering. The first time I was trying to go up a big dune and didn’t see a small wall but we were near the campsite so it didn’t matter too much. The next time was on the marathon stage though, so was very serious. I had to drive 1000km without it. It was hard but we are not fighting for position so at least there was no stress. Now we will go to Buenos Aires!”

A famous team here in Dakar circles are the Boucou trucks, sporting Euro4x4Parts logos on the sides. Their 5 trucks and 1 T2 car follow behind with parts, a welding service and recovery equipment for 12 cars and a few trucks. One of their guys told me a few of their stories from the last week. “One of the Tatra trucks stopped with a broken turbo so when our guys came there were 6 guys working for 3 hours on it and then they were able to continue. They are very happy with the service because otherwise they would be out of the race now. On another stage two of our client’s cars were stuck in the sand so we tied them both behind the truck and pulled them along together in a train. But then there was a big hole with a guy stuck at the bottom of it. He could move if he wanted to but he was sure that he was going to wait for his help… so the driver said that he is not responsible if the truck goes and falls against the car. The guy said OK, they shook hands and then they went… and you can see the scratch down the side of the other car now. It must have been terrifying for the other guy to watch, but they made it! We also collected some nice bits of Peugeot after Sainz’s crash. We have a big workshop in France and over the years we have collected quite a few souvenirs like this.”

On my way to get some lunch I met a very calm looking Nasser Al-Attiyah and asked him what he thought of the 8 minutes lead he has over De Villiers. “I am very relaxed. We will drive tomorrow and see where he is but we don’t need to push.” I asked what he thought about 3rd placed Yazeed Al-Rahji pulling back 10 minutes in the last two stages. “I am not worried. Tomorrow he will open the stage so we will see. He has a good co-driver in Timo Gottschalk but we will keep the same strategy, although all the way to the last stage will be hard.”

Then I met Mark Powell on his way back from the co-driver’s briefing. “It’s my day off, the last thing I want to be doing is collecting another roadbook!” he smiled. “But the trip to Bolivia was quite spectacular. Racing through the rain, snow, across raging rivers, all the people at the side of the road waving us on, sleeping in the barracks in the same room as the likes of Peterhansel and de Villiers and then banging across the biggest salt flat in the world… it was all incredible. That salt flat was 100km long but it didn’t take us too long to get across it. At one point I was thinking about taking my phone out to send a text home but you can’t really take your eye off the terrain for a moment. Another good thing at the end of the marathon stage is that the Orlen team has mechanics to look after the car, so we can just get out and leave it to them which is great. And I had my best sleep yet on the road section back from Bolivia. My head just fell forwards and I was out until we had to start the next section.”

Mark also gave me an exclusive about the pee stops... or lack of them. “No one talks about it but no one pulls over to stop to pee behind a bush, do they? That’s because everyone has nappies. Seriously! But someone took mine out of the car… Robb,” he said, looking me straight in the eye. “Have you ever pissed yourself? Well, there’s a point where you just don’t care anymore… And now I know what old age is going to be like!”

Over in the far corner of the camp is the blue buggy of Bryan Garvey. They were spending the day getting some hard earned rest in a hotel in Iquequi so I couldn’t get an interview. Their buggy was getting a complete strip-down though, ready for the next 5 days. It was even getting some new bodywork! They are still going, 68th out of a remaining 72 but still going is the key word. But many, many other teams are not!

One of those teams on the wrong list, that of withdrawals instead of leaderboard, are the team who started with 4 cars and are now completely wiped out. In the shade and breeze in the back of the service truck I spoke with Chris Ratter about what had happened, “One team had a grand total of 7 punctures on Stage 2 and we just didn’t have enough time to get 4 new tyres into them before they got a DNF. The Bolivian crew had a roll, the car is good to continue but they were a bit shaken and headed home, the British and Swedish pair lost a transfer box and an Australian team we were looking after blew a turbo on their Izuzu D-Max… but this is the Dakar and this year it is a seriously tough one.”

Last, but by no means least is France’s new hero, Benediktas Vanagas. His whole left forearm is noticeably swollen and wrist discoloured and the x-ray showed a clear fracture at the joint on the radius bone. “It’s good that it is the day off because I can talk to the medics and can test the dosage of the painkillers so that for tomorrow we can get the right balance of medicine.” At least the car is already fixed… but For Benediktas I can’t imagine the level of determination that will see him do tomorrow’s huge 450km stage. 

Photo credits. Robb Pritchard and Race Dezert

Dakar 2015
Dakar 2015

Day 8

Another night in the hotel, a view of the ocean from the bed, looking at Carolina’s birthday photos on Facebook and three cups of coffee… the re-set button has been pressed. Although perhaps there’s a little lingering guilt that Benediktas Vanagas and co-driver Andrei Rudneitski are hard at work high up on a salt flat in Bolivia.

Last night I watched a video of Yazeed Al-Rajhi’s feet. Writing it like that sounds a little perverse but years ago I used to watch an Audo Sport promo video of Walter Rohrl on the San Remo rally dancing on the pedals. Al-Rajhi reminded me of that. Speeding across the desert is no cruise, it is constant violent stabs of the gas with the right foot and brakes with the left and for two days the drivers are doing it at an altitude of 3800m. Incredible. 

That famous 1km high dune is right outside the campsite and we were expecting the cars to come in a couple of hours, but there, hurtling down the drop like a little avalanche of Russian steel was a Kamaz. One of the most impressive Dakar sights I’ve seen yet. The No 500 of Karginov was first back, with a twisted bumper. And if a Kamaz is bent you know it hit something so hard it would have destroyed a car. The Russian team only hold the top 3 positions but Sotkinov is only less than 15 minutes behind 4th place Ales Loprais so they still have a hope of total and utter domination. 

I went up the dune, to by the jump and made friends with a friendly family with a nice gazebo to sit under and sat to watch the mid-field trucks coming down as my mad Lithuanian friend Gedmus hiked all the way to the top. A giant diesel engine topping out doesn’t sound so good though, like some large, machined pieces of metal are about to become shrapnel. 

First car tearing over the crest and then dropping down like a V8 powered stone was Saudi rookie Yazeed Al-Rajhi, just over a minute ahead of Orlando Terranova. I spoke to team manager Glyn Hall about what he thinks of his performance. “He’s really doing the business but also very importantly he is listening to his co-driver and others in the team about getting experience of the event before going flat out. Well, he’s experienced now, so today he chose to go flat out!” Today was the first stage win by a non-MINI driver.

Not so happy was the rather deflated looking Giles de Villiers sitting, resting his arm on his table after just coming back from the stewards office. “Today was good. We had 130km fighting with Nasser flat out on the salt flats, either right behind him or next to him, but he managed to get into the road at the end a little in front of us and so we lost a little time. But then he lost a wheel, he must not have tightened it properly last night, and so we were leading the rest of the special until… the TV helicopter made a massive cloud of dust and we had to stop right in the middle of the fesh fesh. And then we hit a stone and burst a tyre…”

 “It’s called ‘outside influence’,” Glyn explained. “He didn’t drive the same course and conditions as the others which isn’t fair, so we’re hoping to get the time back. The helicopter crew apologised, but at this stage of the event 2 ½ minutes are very valuable.”

Peugeot are in the news twice today. I finally met someone happy to talk and the nice Cecile explained that really, everything was going to plan. “Six months ago we had nothing, so to get here and not have any real technical problems, apart from a clutch issue with Cyril Despres, is very positive. And the main thing is that with almost every kilometre we are leaning about something we can improve, so we want to get at least two cars back to Buenos Aires to learn absolutely everything we can for next year.”

The other reason that Peugeot are in the news is that because of the cold and the altitude in Bolivia last night neither car would start this morning. They were trying for half an hour and Stephane Peterhansel had 3 minutes left to get to the time control… and it was Benediktas Vanagas who pulled both cars around on a tow rope for a couple of minutes until they bump started. “Some history was almost repeated,” he said when he got back. “Do you remember the Monte Carlo rally in 1999 when the same thing happened?” Such was the gratitude for keeping the cars in the event Peugeot Sport team boss Bruno Famin came over to personally thank the team. 

But it wasn’t all roadside assistance and smiles for Benediktas though as he had a hard day. The power steering on the No 339 Toyota failed with 130km left in the first section. Then there was a 250km road section and a 38km special to do. “To drive a Dakar car in the sand with no power steering is almost impossible. You have to turn the wheel with all of your strength but then 3km from the end we hit a rut or something and the wheel turned so quickly it broke my arm. But we will continue tomorrow.” At first I thought he was joking but then he showed me the huge swelling on his wrist. “I just came from the x-ray centre and after the ice pack has melted will but a support on. And then we will carry on.” And then as he walked off with a smile he uttered the immortal words I have heard many time since we left Buenos Aires over a week ago. “This is the Dakar!”

Standing up on that massive dune was a very cool experience. Robby was about half an hour later than my arms and neck really wanted to be out in the sun but he was worth waiting for… and the whole crowd lined up either side of the track shouting his name thought so too. He had a flat tyre at the end which might explain why he was not flat out on the way down, but as his press release helpfully mentioned last night, this is the first flat Toyo tyre he’s had since 2012. That is a statistic to make other suppliers weep!

I also found the Acciona team, the first fully electric car on the Dakar. It isn’t running anymore which matches quite a few people’s expectations but there was nothing wrong with the electrics, problems with the brakes and steering systems freaked the ECU out. “But we are very proud to be here,” said their press guy. “In 37 editions of the Dakar no one did anything different but we came with the first ever fossil fuel free power unit. To be the first at the Dakar is very good!”

Also all smiles are the G-Force team of Sergei Fomin and Dan Schmel. What they told me in over a snack in the giant canteen was more of a travelogue than a rally report. “It was amazing to see all the people along the roads waving the Bolivian flags. And we stayed in an army based on camp beds with about 50 other drivers. A very strange experience. But the car is good, many people had problems with water in the filters in the deep water crossings but we have the intake high up and at the back so we are OK. We drive carefully with no problems and want to get back to Buenos Aires.”

On the overall leaderboard Al-Attiyah keeps an 8:47 lead but over the marathon stage new Dakar hero Al-Rajhi has clawed back 10 minutes and is definitely in contention. Tomorrow is finally a rest day for the crews and a well deserved one. Cars will be fully serviced but one day is not really long enough for broken bones to heal…

Photo credits. Robb Pritchard and Race Dezert

Dakar 2015
Dakar 2015

Day 7

The first shower for three days, a clean set of clothes, a good stretch of arthritic knees and a stroll in Iquequi beach, what a nice way to start a Dakar day. There’s no press on today’s Bolivian marathon stage so all of a sudden we have a day off and nothing to do. Well, the hotel has a pool so I can think of something to do…

As Gedmas and I strolled around the service park we both commented on how nice it is to be relaxed at last. Somewhere in another country 74 cars are battling hell for leather but the organisers have let their local partners and families into camp so there is a festival atmosphere around the hospitality tents, and Belarussian truck mechanics posing for photos with Chilean children. The only action is on the live action screens, although they are very confusing. The camerman Vilius fimed me trying to work out where our driver Benediktas Vanagas was so you might see my left hand and nice Vostock Europe watch (a gift from the team sponsor) on the video tonight. Also very cool to see was the two of us scattering in front of Eric van Loon’s MINI on the big screen in the camp canteen. The people on the tables around us had no idea why we were jumping up excitedly.

I am sure pretty much everyone knows what headline driver Robby Gordon has been getting up to but fellow American Bryan Garvey is also still in the rally… although they came close to binning it yesterday. In thick dust while overtaking a truck they hit a ditch hard and had to drag the buggy back to the camp carefully so that they welder could at least try to get it ready for the marathon stage. They did and according the live timing are on course to get a Top 50 finish on the first part of the marathon stage. 

Again according to the screens Vanagas got to the remote camp in 15th so moves back up a couple of places in the overall standings and you’ll find him in 22nd, one position and about half an hour ahead of Robby Gordon. 

Sadly out are the No 420 Land Rover crew. The most standard car in the field doesn’t have a scratch on it and it didn’t break down, it was the crew that couldn’t carry on. On Stage 5 they were struggling in the dark and dunes until a thick fog came down and they couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces. Then they saw some lights of some trucks in front and tried to follow them… until one fell over. Because it was so dangerous they waited until first light to finish the last 30km and thoroughly exhausted got to camp at 9:30am with less than 2 hours before the start of the next stage. A tired driver can’t react to a hazard too quickly and a tired co-driver can miss something important in the roadbook so they decided that it wasn’t safe to continue. They are proud to have done 5 stages some of which were the hardest in recent Dakar history. 

Today’s stage was 321km long and up to an altitude of 3800m so looking at how close the times are it seems amazing that the Top 10 are covered by such close margins. Nasser Al-Attiyah struggled to cope with the altitude with a bad headache and will be very happy to only drop 3mins to his closest challenger Giles de Villiers who is now just 8 mins behind. Dakar rookie Yazeed Al-Rajhi continued to impress in the second Toyota taking 2nd just a couple of minutes behind the fastest MINI. The stage win went to Orlando Terranova who after his first stage malfunction has nothing to do now apart from collect stage wins. I am too frustrated with the getting the live timing to work as it is taking up valuable pool time. 

Tonight the crews have to work on their own cars with no outside assistance and then it’s 472km of sand and salt beds back to Iquequi in Chile, ending with the famous drop down the massive dune. Guess where I’ll be standing!

Photo credits. Robb Pritchard and Race Dezert

Dakar 2015
Dakar 2015

Day 6

Yesterday we were a bit late to the stage so today someone had the bright idea to leave early. Really early. At stupid o’clock, in fact. So packing our camp beds away at 4:30 am, missing breakfast we had a lovely three hours watching all the bikes and quads come through while keeling over using my computer bag as a pillow. Yes, Robb was grumpy this morning. Here in the Dakar sleep is as valuable a commodity as an internet connection. 

After a week, if you include the days of scrutineering, of constant driving, navigating, photo taking and editing and writing the exhaustion manifests in different ways. Benediktas Vanagas, the driver of our team is always bouncing around directing the mechanics or doing interviews and never looking fatigued in the slightest, but for us normal people are starting to suffer. Some personality issues are starting to seep through the cracks of sleep deprivation but for me I am really having issues with short term memory. I am constantly going through my pockets and bags looking for things like pens and batteries I was sure I had a few moments ago and even though I have been trying to remember for a while now, I can’t recall anything of yesterday’s stage… And so I am getting a whole new appreciation of the superhuman levels of fitness and stamina the drivers must have to do what they do, day in day out for a week. 

We’re near the tropic of Capricorn… or Gemini… I asked this morning but have already forgotten, but two weeks after the summer solstice the sun is almost directly overhead. The sun is hot but the air is cool as we are about 2400m above sea level, up in the barren wastes of Chile. I had no idea is was such a desolate place. Our place for the day was a giant flood plain with an abandoned railway running across it and a dig ditch. I remembered about what Yazeed Al Rajhi told me a couple of days ago about being scared of ditches so as I watched him tear towards it I couldn’t help waving to slow him down. He just about managed to slew to a stop but had the power on before the front wheels had touched the ground. Gedmus has a nice photo of my in the process of taking cover in a very prickly bush. The Toyota’s sub frame whacked on the top of the other bank but he was away. Fast. 

Robby Gordon was next and his Gordini’s suspension made short work of the steep banks but the buggy gets airborne much easier than the 4x4 cars do. Something I learned today is how well a MINI stops. Quite a few of them raced up to the ditch and we were sure they were going to nose in hard but they pulled up, up dirt, in an incredibly short distance. 

And then another surprise. Making an unmistakable plume on the horizon was a Kamaz. Standing just a few metres away from the Russian behemoths as it made easy work, grinding and creaking like an old ship was well worth the lungful of dust. Then I saw Marek Dabrawski coming, looking a little hesitant so waved him over and pointed to the line through. Evidently co-driver Mark Powell saw me as he came and thanked me later. “We could see that it was a ditch and it was marked as a triple caution, but we couldn’t see the bottom of it so you never want to drive into something blind like that.” 

I saw the VW buggy, going very well, but by the time it came through we were well aware of the ominous lack of a black Toyota with a motif of a Lithuanian knight on the side. After finishing 14th yesterday high hopes of a good starting position for the marathon stage were dashed when a rough ditch broke the half shaft, which in turn cut a brake pipe. 3x4s are no good in the fesh fesh so there was no option, they had to stop and fix it in the stage. An hour and a half was lost. Benediktas has a special knack for being positive though. “When you prepare for the Dakar you always hope that nothing will happen… but something always does. I think Robby Gordon knows this even better than me. We dropped form 14th to 24th but we’ll still do the best that we can in each stage, so the plan hasn’t changed at all.”

On paper the day looked like a little short one, 322km liaison, 69 SS, 22 liaison, 186 SS and then 48 down to camp but following the cars to the mid point of the stage, standing for over three hours in the sun, not eating until after 4pm and driving over 700km we got to camp just as the sun was setting over the ocean. Looming up behind is a 1000m high sand dune with a little, barely distinguishable line running down it. I have watched Youtube videos of a certain orange buggy fly down it a few times. 

Another thing I learned today is how huge and involved the event is that a chase crew with no internet that gets into camp late in the evening knows next to nothing about what is going on in the overall standings. Yes, we see the cars race past at mad speeds but we only see a snapshot of each stage, a few seconds of action from 4 or 5 hours of fierce competition. For example I only found out this evening that Carlos Sainz rolled out yesterday. And one more thing to learn; internet is a luxury!

This evening I did find out that the kangaroo liveried Toyota of Australian Geoff Olholm will be going no further. Blinded by dust he found a deep ditch and stoved the front of the car in. The damage to the Hi-Lux is easily fixable, but unfortunately that done to Geoff is not. It was a hit hard enough to hurt his back so bad that he temporarily lost feeling to his legs. The latest news is that he has damaged a vertebra but will be fine. 

The rest of the results I have no idea about, but seeing the leaderboard on a scrap of paper strewn over the media centre I see that Al-Attiyah in the MINI is managing his lead over Giles de Villiers in the South Africa Imperial Toyota, but just 28 mins behind is the amazing Al-Rajhi. Dakar 2015 is now a three horse race, and even if the Saudi driver took 3rd, on his first ever Dakar that would be an incredible result. 

The much talked about marathon stage in neighbouring Bolivia starts tomorrow. A 321km stage that finishes up at 3800m, a camp that is strictly for drivers only and even press aren’t allowed lest someone be a secret mechanic sneaks in… which means that someone might get a day off tomorrow. Crews can use what tools and spares they have, nothing more. The next day there is a 510km SS back down to Iquique, a two day odyssey that will finish with a decent down the famous dune, a 1km drop. 

My wonderful team brought me to a hotel in town to use the wifi and seem to have left me here. I am not complaining. Sleep is a luxury!

Photo credits. Robb Pritchard and Race Dezert

Dakar 2015
Dakar 2015

Robb’s Dakar Blog

Day 5

I would never have thought that I would be overjoyed with 6 hours of sleep outside with generators droning all around me, but with sleeping bag soaked with dew I woke up ready to trudge over passed the MINIs to get breakfast.

I was so blown away with the incredible landscape over the Andes yesterday that I didn’t expect to have the same impressions today. But the road along the Chilean coast, the ocean breaking against blackened rocks, a couple of sea lions bobbing about in the surf was again breath-taking. Apart from a few rough shacks on the beach the 700km between Copiapo and the wonderfully named Antofagasta was just a barren mountainous wilderness, nothing but a few traffic controls and roadside shrines… and a giant concrete hand. 

The co-ordinates for the press point turned out to be a particularly remote spot of nothingness so we had to be creative and followed some dodgy tracks over the hills heading towards the lines of dust  we could see on the horizon. It took a while, I learned some Lithuanian swear words but we found the canyon and it was stunning. A dry river bed at the bottom of a deep gorge cut out of the grey, purple and black rocks. The sun was high, the wind was hard and it was the most perfect place to sit and watch the Dakar. 

I saw the No 353 VW bug for the first time as well as Bryan Garvey, who was definitely one of the faster mid-fielders but the highlight of the day was seeing the trucks racing. A Kamaz drifting in the dirt, kicking up huge clouds of dust is the epitome of the Dakar. They stand 1, 2 and 3 at the top of the leaderboard and that’s how they went through the canyon. 

From there is was a long and featureless drive. Gedmus doesn’t want to play I Spy with me anymore and because the organisers decided that they weren’t giving the lunch boxes out to press today we were all starving. It wouldn’t have been a problem if we could have stopped at a café… apart from the 700km of absolute nothingness…

It was very late when we got into the Antofagasta camp. All the big names had already left but our humble team was in good spirits. Benediktas Vanagas finished 14th today which means that he starts with faster people around him tomorrow. “But still, 100km out of the 458km we were in the dust so we still haven’t had a clean stage where we can show our true speed. On a flat straight track anyone can go fast but when the road is full of tricky turns and rocks it takes a very experienced and capable driver to go fast and on the mining roads that were very like the WRC my years of rallying experience really came in useful. There was a section of rocks that was like a 4x4 trial and I’ve done hard off-road events as well so everything was OK. Tomorrow we have a lot of sand which is always hard but I at this stage in the event I am happy with my position… and anyway, we are probably the smallest team in the Top 20 and don’t have the budget to go flat out. If I did I could go much faster but would have to change a gearbox and driveshafts every evening.”

Tomorrow is a 4:30 am start for us so I am not going to wonder around the camp, I am just going to find a place to curl up in and sleep!

Photo credits. Robb Pritchard and Race Dezert

Dakar 2015
Dakar 2015

Robb’s Dakar Blog

Day 4

With the Andean backdrop the third campsite was another stunning one… except for the bastard sharp little seeds sticking into my feet… and then the news that we’d lost one of the family. 38 year old Michal Hernik was found dead in the stage and that of course cast a pallor over the event. It’s an amazing rally but with a sinking feeling I have to ask is what we’re doing here really worth a life? Everyone who signs up, especially the bikers, know the risk, and the statistics, but still… the Dakar always goes on. 

Quite bizarrely we got stamped out of Argentina and into Chile in the camp by border guards who’d come especially for the Dakar entourage and then to make the next day’s 600km drive a little easier we drove the first 250km through the night, the Wilderness Lighting bar making the road ahead as light as day. To keep us, most importantly the driver, awake I taught my Lithuanian friends how to play I Spy. Gedmus got me with SS and then we had a discussion about how it is not a shining stripe but a reflecting line that runs down the middle of the road... 

At about 3:30am I finally managed to upload my text and because the whole event is going to be like this I give up on trying to get the main news of the top guys as quick as I can. The biggest issue with this is the organisers themselves as they charge an absolutely insane 2300 euros for 2gb of bandwidth… and that’s for the two weeks, not just a day. And even if you buy it doesn’t even work as my friend Klaus found out the other day! So we have been spending the afternoons approaching camp scouring the little villages and fuel stations for wifi. Mostly without success. 

We had a glorious 5 hours sleep in some random hotel in a town none of us knew the name of and woke up to the sound of birds singing and V8s passing through the town. I know two words in Lithuanian but could tell something was wrong, mainly because to swear they use Russian words. All the car papers were in the service truck and that was already over the border. Then on the way out the Tripy went off twice in the 50km/h zone. Burning 200 euros on speeding fines before you’re properly awake is not the best way to start the day. 

But the landscape we drove through doesn’t let you keep negative thoughts for long. Untold millions of years of tectonic activity have folded the earth like crumpled bedsheets and sedimentary rocks that were once pressed down under a primordial ocean are now jutting out at 90 degrees some 3000 metres high. Valleys of thin grass were home to herds of wild llamas and the odd donkey. According to Gedmus’ Garmin watch the highest point of the road was 4800 metres, so far up that the land was nothing but scorched rocks. The ancient Nazca people laid out the famous lines not so far from here and I think I understand why; this place really is somewhere between the realm of man and his gods. 

A couple of hundred kilometres over the border in Chile in a tight valley was the eclectic mix of Toyota’s, MINIs, Peugeots, buggies and other wonderful machines lined up to begin Day 4 of this insane off-road odyssey. The start line was on loose rocks and an incline so while the MINIs and Toyotas shot off the Peugeots and Gordini seemed to struggle to get going. From the driver’s seat of the No 311 Toyota Mark Powell waved, obviously starting to be more relaxed and I found Bryan Garvey for the first time, although he didn’t have time to chat as he was fixing a fuel line issue. Also still going is the No 420 Land Rover!

Today’s bivoauc is in a huge amphitheatre of sandy mountains and dunes and the stage ends just before the camp. The straggling bikers were the first we saw edge over the top and then weave their way down the huge slope but the first car we saw was the Imperial Toyota of Giles de Villiers and the speed he got up to down the face of the mountains dune was absolutely astounding. Free fall down a 1 in 1 slope. 

Once he was back in camp and done with official interview duties he told me about his day. “It was hard,” he said. “To start with it was a 6 hour drive at very high altitude which takes a lot out of you and then you have to do a tricky stage that takes a lot of concentration. Orlando Terranova started first but he hit a bank or something and ripped a wheel off, from what I could see. From then on we were opening the road and so lost a couple of minutes to Nasser. It’s 7 ½ now, but we are only four days down, there is another ten to go so that time is nothing.”

A guy I was hoping to catch up with for a while is Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi. He was 3rd yesterday… and this is his first Dakar! I asked him what he’d done in his life to prepare him for this. “Well, we have nothing but sand in the Middle East and ever since I was a kid we went camping out in the desert so I drove my old Land Cruiser a lot in the dunes. But my problem now is that a year and a half ago I crashed the Hummer I bought from Robby Gordon and broke my back, so now in the dunes I am always a little scared about what could be just ahead. I started at number 25 so had lots of slower cars in front. On the first day there was no possibility to overtake, on Day 2 I was behind Robby Gordon for 100km and yesterday I spent 50km behind Vladimir Vasiliev and he wouldn’t move over. Today we were free and were leading on every CP until we got to the dunes. There I was a little easy and in the 70km lost a few minutes, but for me it’s best to take it easy there.”

Being swamped by fans was the amicable Nasser Al-Attiyah, who took another couple of minutes out of de Villiers to extend his lead. “I was quite happy to win the stage and now we don’t have to go flat out, I can just manage the time now and just go day to day without problems. I am happy that we are going without problems.”

Because I was early in camp I wanted to get to speak with the Peugeot guys before they head off to their hotels. I am used to wondering around X-Raid and Overdrive with my notebook and camera but the French team is a little different. No access to drivers in service, you wait in line for some guy in a white shirt to tell you that you should just wait for the official press release later. 

Benediktas Vanagas of the General Finance – Autopaslauga - Pitlane team pulled into the service park and was all smiles as he clasped the hands of his mechanics. “It was a tough day. To start with driving 600km at 4800m was hard. I had such a bad headache that I had to take a pill for it, but then on the other side we came down again and it felt better. In the start of the stage there were lots of rocks and we had a puncture. That is normal in the Dakar but putting the wheel back on we damaged the studs and had to stop again to check that it was alright. Loose a wheel and you loose the rally. The dunes at the end of the stage were great. Coming down into the big drop before the campsite were in a race with an Iveco and a buggy and I feel happy because we won that battle!”

The camp is relaxed, there’s nothing major that needs doing on Benediktas’ Toyota, apart from replacing a couple of studs. Another stage done successfully.

Tomorrow we go north and will see the Pacific ocean for the first time which means that we have crossed the continent. Nobody has a plan, nobody has wifi, everybody is living the dream to be here!

 Photo credits. Robb Pritchard and Race Dezert

Dakar 2015

Cat and Mouse

Day 3 of the Dakar

A short prologue and the longest stage of the rally done it should be a rhythm that the drivers are looking to settle into now. If we were expecting to see anyone taking it easy though, we were mistaken. For the top guys the Dakar is a marathon sprint!

Many people in the campsite would have been kept awake by the sounds of generators and the plaintive cries of mechanics as they realised the futility of their repair efforts. Me, I was kept awake by a peacock crying to the stars. Such is the price you pay for staying in a 5* hotel!

The landscape has changed from the anonymous plains of central Argentina to the most epic desert mountains that put me in mind of Utah or Death Valley. A dirt road over a range of mountains that would have kept a geologist entertained for hours and we came to the special stage where is crossed two fords and a patch of fesh fesh.

The TV helicopter announced the imminent arrival and with the angry vacuum cleaner sound of a MINI at full tilt Nasser Al-Attiyah came into view. No testing the depth of the water, just flat out through it giving a couple of camermen a free shower. With pedal hard to the floor, 90 seconds behind. South African Giles de Villiers was in serious pursuit of the MINI and on corrected time should have been in the lead at that point. 

We had the start order list but Bernard Ten Brinke didn’t come by next. It was the Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi in his Overdrive Toyota, some 14 ½ mins behind. Then the 2nd MINI of KH came but was noticeably slower than those in front… and the same with Carlos Sainz in the Peugeot 3008DKR. It just wasn’t getting the power down and didn’t seem to have any power. 

Eric Van Loon in his MINI took the water crossing so slow that he got booed by the crowd and then Ten Brink passed but with some heavy damage to the front of his Toyota. Going all out was Vladimir Vasiliev but he was a long way behind so he must have had some problems. 

Someone else with problems was Robby Gordon again. By my rough estimation he was an hour and a half behind and going very slow. The T2 production class Land Cruiser of Japan’s Jun Mitsuhashi was following him. Biggest cheer of the entire field wasn’t reserved for the bright orange Gordini though but the VW bug of Stephane Henrad. 

Then … but back at camp it was the usual hive of friendly activity. I wanted another road trip and a fruitless hunt through random desert villages for wifi to the X-Raid camp to talk to the drivers but they had already gone to their hotels. The friendly Pole Krzysztof Holowczyc was still around and had a few minutes. I thought that he was driving slowly and that was because he’s broken the rear prop shaft and did 120km of the stage with only front wheel drive. “We started quite smoothly but passed Ten Brinke who’d rolled so we started to go a little easier… but we have a saying in Poland about almost having the bird in your hand as the rear diff went. On the fast tracks the car handed terribly and on accelerating I had to be careful because all of the power was going through the front but we continued. Near the end of the stage there was a lot of fesh fesh and we were worried about it but it was actually quite funny because we kept going in 2wd while Vasiliev was stuck even though he had 4x4! In the end we were very lucky that we only lost 18 minutes. It could have been a lot worse.”

Back in Overdrive, shoulders freshly relaxed, I finally caught up with Mark Powell. I like to follow the real people stories and this is one. He spent a couple of days thinking about the offer of driving the Orlen team press car but on New Years eve got the call up to be a full co-driver… so had three days to get ready! I have two trip, two GPS computers in front of me and a roadbook bouncing around in front of me and trying to get all of them in some sort if unison is quite a task. So hard in fact that in future I have decided that I will go a bit easier on my co-drivers! The first two days were a massive learning curve but we made quite a mistake today when we overshoot a turn and an official pointed us off the wrong way. It was 10km before we realised, so we lost quite a bit of time with that. But we’re still going well, and Marek Dabrowski is a really good driver!”

Yesterday Mark and Marek were the ones who stopped to give Stephane Peterhansel a bump start. 

Featured driver Benediktas Vanagas also had a rather eventful day. The thick dust of the opening stage set them back a little so they are spending a lot of the stages in other’s dust driving at 50% throttle. “Today we caught Sven Schott after just 4 minutes and had to spend the next 30km waiting behind him trying to find a way by. It was a rough stage, part of it we were racing up a river bed full of rocks. We got a puncture but one of the stones must hve ricocheted in a funny way and cut a brake line… so we did almost 200km of the stage with no brakes. A couple of times we fell off the track but actually I would say that the main problem again was the dust. In the 300km I think we were in dust for about 50 or 60km… so in the end I am not so disappointed that we finished 22nd. What I hope to do in the next few days is get into the top 20, maybe even 15 because then you have faster cars around you with bigger gaps between them at the start.” Starting 39th and aiming for the Top 10 he’s half way there already. 


Next door to Benediktas is one of the most popular cars in the event. Al-Attiyah got a cheer, Robby Gordon would have got a much bigger one if he’d gone faster through the river crossing but getting the biggest shouts of encouragement in the whole field was Stephane Henrad’s VW Beetle! “We are two friends and my co-driver has no experience of the Dakar so we are here for fun… which is actually the spirit of the car. We have two targets. Fun and a good balance between performance and cost. The car is small and light, probably the lightest 2 seater here so in the dunes we hope it will be a pleasure.”

And the 353 number on the side is no coincidence. “When I was a kid Herbie was my hero!”

Brain Garvey’s wife sent a few messages as we were driving through the stunning desert mountain landscape today. After going through a grand total of 6 tyres the team got properly bogged down in the fesh fesh and were digging the car out until the early hours. They got to the end and texted home at 3:30 am. A couple of hours sleep before heading out to the next stage! They send a photo full of smiles home too. Heros!

Photo credits. Robb Pritchard and Race Dezert

Dakar 2015

The ‘real’ Dakar starts

Day 2 of the Dakar


The final note for yesterday’s opening stage was that the real Dakar starts today. 518km over a range of rocky, 2000m high mountains and then back down into the central Argentinean plateau, rocks, dirt, semi-desert and soft sand, the longest stage of the event had it all.

In the woods on the shore of a lake the first night’s service park was the most picturesque I have even been to. We pulled out early and drove far too slowly for my liking weaving in and out of the slow-going service trucks through the sun-baked landscape. The a/c I nout Land Cruiser died and the contents of the ‘lunchbox’ did absolutely nothing for 100kg of excited Welshman… but whatever discomfort I was feeling it was nothing compared to what the drivers were going through.

From the finish I walked in a couple of km and the heat of the ground radiated like a furnace, but at least today there was a wind. Before the start I knew that the new spec Toyotas with the extra power and independent rear suspension would be faster than last year and today that was proved. Orlando Terranova was first over the line but South African Giles de Villiers was hot on his heels in a very tight fight. Third home was Nasser Al-Attiyah, the happy Qatari smiling as usual… but there were a few people missing.

Second yesterday was a great start for the Speed Energy team but it seems it’s all over already for Robby Gordon. Word from his team is that his brakes failed near the start which cost 50 minutes… but it seems something else has happened as he still wasn’t at the finish after over an hour. People wearing black T-shirts with the orange lightening strike on the front were looking despondent.

I love the Peugeots. Dakar fans love the Peugeots. Everyone loves the Peugeots… except the Peugeot drivers, if the open rumours I have been hearing are true. We knew that the first couple of stages would tell whether they were in with a chance this year but at the end of Day 2 I can say that the win will be between MINI and Toyota. When the second 3008DKR finally pulled in Stephane Peterhansel could hardly stand up and needed a few minutes with a cold Red Bull before he could speak to the TV crews. But I got to sit down with him and did a little interview. “It was a really tough stage, a lot of fesh fesh. The car was OK but I lost control, hit a tree and had to stop to fix the wheel. It took 30 minutes but that was OK but then when we were ready to go it wouldn’t start again and so we had to wait for another competitor to come and bump start us!” He came in 27th and so is another of the top runners to fall out of the hunt.

In the car we were struggling with internet so my wonderful friend Marina was sending us text updates all the way from Israel and at Check Point 12 Benediktas Vanagas was up to a great 17th after starting 33rd. That meant he was half way to getting into the Top 10 on only Day 2! But unfortunately, waiting at the finish the time was ticking away… and when he came to the finish I couldn’t believe how he looked. Once he’d cleaned the thick layer of dirt off his face he looked deathly pale… but he shrugged it off. That’s what an athlete looks like after performing to the limit for 5 hours. “It was a nice day,” he said. “The terrain is what I enjoy driving on and I was getting faster and faster and more confident and even passed Cyril Despres in the Peugeot… but then we had a strange problem. One of the time control officials hit the side window so hard that he broke it and so we had to drive through all of the fine dust with the cabin absolutely full of it. Also, in the fesh fesh we got stuck and lost about 20 minutes getting out, but at least that is to be expected in the Dakar.”

In 3rd is someone you might not have heard of before. Dutchman Bernard Ten Brinke has stepped up to the reliable Overdrive Toyota Hi-Lux and has blitzed the first two stages even though his plan was to drive conservatively for until after the marathon stage… We arrived quite late at the camp so the top drivers had already left for the hotel, but I will catch up with him as soon as I can.

Still around was the affable Giles de Villiers from the South Africa Toyota team. “I had a good day! I ended up first on the road and opening the course is always a little harder than following but nothing is wrong with the car and we are where we thought we would be, which is great. And now the longest stage is behind us.”

Leading the stage at CP 6 was his younger team mate Leeroy Pouter, until he got stuck in the dust of Russian Vladimir Vasiliev… who ignored the sentinel alarm many times. Then he heard a noise in the rear suspension so took it a bit easier.

There is no Kangaroo liveried Toyota in the Overdrive camp though. Geoff Olholm was stuck in the same fesh fesh that caught out Vanagas… and quite a few others too. Bryan Garvey has been there for a couple of hours and the camp is eerily quite, so I guess there will be a lot of people struggling back in the dark.

Results are still all provisional but you can find them on the official Dakar site.

Tomorrow is a much easier stage. 220km of gravel and sand. Check back to see what Day 3 will bring!

Photo credits. Robb Pritchard and Race Dezert

Dakar 2015 - Crónica Robb Pritchard

A Shock in the Dust

Day 1 of the Dakar. 

As a kid in the 80s I used to love the Group B Peugeot 205 T16s and when they got banned by FIA it was the Duke video of Ari Vatanen crashing on the 1987 Paris-Dakar prologue and the following drive from last to first that I used to watch. That was 28 years ago. I have wanted to do the Dakar since then.

But you don’t just do the Dakar. With limited financial means and intellect it took a very long time to get here, but now, thanks to Benediktas Vanagas, with both me and the Peugeots a generation older I get to see the lions roar out in the open at last.

It was an early start (but I think every day’s story will start like that) and Benediktas was nervous as he got suited up… and after reading the book with all the horrific stage information, who wouldn’t be. “But once I get to the start and going everything will be fine,” he said as headed off to collect the Overdrive Hi-Lux from Parc Ferme.

Crowds of screaming and waving locals lined the road out of Buenos Aires Gumball 3000 style, holding out Argentinean flags to give the rally a festival atmosphere. The landscape north west of the capital is flat and the hot summer sun has baked the ground bone dry… and the dust was the story of the day.

After so long watching on TV, seeing the cars come into the finish control and watching the sweat-soaked drivers climb out it was a little like a dream come true, and I think Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah might have been feeling the same sentiment as he was the first man through the finish. With the press of cameramen and the sound of the MINIs engine whining like a big angry vacuum cleaner I couldn’t hear what he was saying apart from the words, “…parked on the side of the track.” That was a reference to Nani Roma, last year’s winner stopped before he even got to the first control point.

Because no one stopped me I’d wondered into the filmcrew only section so didn’t want to join the jostle but Robby Gordon had a few moments for the crowd and said that he had a great day and the provisional 3rd place was right where he wanted to be.

A little out of the top ten and the official camera crews went back to the helicopters and I got to talk to Leeroy Pouter, Giles de Villier’s team mate. “It was so dangerous,” he said. “There was dust through the whole stage and we were just lucky that we didn’t hit anyone. Actually we hit a tree… It was not a good day.”

Coming in behind him and reeling off a great first day in the office was Mark Powell sitting in with Marek Dabrowski. He looked a little shell shocked but gave the thumbs up. 15th was a very good result.

A few spots behind in a similar Hi-Lux, but one with a giant kangaroo painted on the side was Australia’s Geoff Olholm. Unlike most of the others he was all smiles as he got out. “That was like a road race, just flat out and fun all day. We were behind Romain Dumas but just couldn’t get close enough to get by and then in the fast stuff he just pulled away. But today was good!”

With his Wilderness Lighting spot lights cutting through the hanging dust Vanagas slewed to a stop at the time control. “That was the most difficult stage of my driving career. I was driving at 170km/h and then hit a wall of dust and was suddenly blind. In places where I could be at 200km/h I was at 70… but this is the Dakar and so that is how it is. Hopefully tomorrow there will be different conditions or at least some wind… If so I will look forward to it.”

Bryan Garvey got through unscathed and smiling. “After all the preparation it was great to finally get out in the car and drive in anger but the thing that really stood out for me today are the Argentinean people lining the way. They make it so much fun! I also have a great team mate in Antonio Hasbun to work with, so we’re looking forward to what is coming!”

Then there was a 500km drive to Cordoba through endless flat fields of soya plants. One of my headphone speakers stopped working so I only had Lamb of God in my left ear but then at last we saw mountains on the horizon until eventually we got to a stunning camp site on the shore of a lake near Cordoba.

6 hours after he broke down still no one knows what happened to Roma, apart from a tiny and overly optimistic press release that says he lost 6 hours to the leaders. Realistically it means that X-Raid now have a fast set of spares for the other cars. Some more bad news for X-Raid is that Al-Attiyah got a 2 minute penalty for speeding in a controlled section. That might be appealed though. That leaves the top MINI as Orlando Terranova with Robby Gordon in 2nd and the new spec South African Toyota of Gilles de Villiers in 3rd.

Last year Carlos Souza in a Great Wall was the first leader, so short first stages that most drivers drove practically blind is not really an indication of what is to come. Tomorrow is a monster stage, more than 500km of constant surface changes that only the very best will come out on top of. If any of the odd names on the leaderboard are still there tomorrow I will be very impressed. It will be an early start.

For the full list of results please see the official Dakar website.

Robb’s Dakar. Scrutineering and Start Podium

You always hear how big it is but until you actually see it, the scale of the Dakar is a little hard to comprehend. Technical commission (scrutineering), despite being 4 lanes wide takes three days! From the ship that docked a week ago teams congregated in the service area of a technology park outside the centre of the city.

Here they can finish the things they didn’t quite manage to before the ship left, such as fine tune the settings, double-check all the nuts and bolts… and finish welding the subframes… and it’s wondering around here chatting to random people you realise just how far and wide teams have come. One of the stunning G-Force New Lines has the Turkmenistan flag on the side of it, the Cocunut Racing team have come all the way from Australia, there are South Africans, Russians, Canadians, Japanese… but the award for the furthest travelled must go to the Mongolians who drove their service truck from Ulan Baatur in Mongolia, all the way through Russia for 8 days none stop, left the car in France, flew back to Mongolia for a month and then travelled the other way around the world to meet the car again in Argentina! Oh, and the two of them will be sitting in the back of two brand new Hungarian Land Cruisers that were taken from the factory and turned into Dakar racers in 4 ½ weeks.

Our featured driver Benediktas Vanagas in the General Financing – Autopaslauga by Pitlane Hi-Lux (the gorgeous black one with the knight motif on the side) had a bit of work to do. A welcome change for the petrol powered Toyota teams is a 1mm increase in the size of the restrictor plate. It doesn’t sound too much but actually it is enough to give a noticeable power boost. However, it’s not just a simple bolt-in job as the ecu and sensors need to be recalibrated and so the mechanics had some fun in the rain. Compared to some of the beasts racing here the Hi-Lux is quite an understated looking car but on the strip next to the service park Benediktas put his foot down and the sound the angry 5l V8 made was gorgeous. Maybe twin turbo diesels have levels of torque enough to make Kamaz drivers jealous, but nothing sounds like a V8!

Talking of the Russian truck team, the King of Kamaz himself strolled over to say hello, Mr Vladimir Chagin, 7 times a winner and the all time stage win record holder (63, 4 more than Stephane Peterhansel). Not many sporting legends wonder around the paddock to chat in the drizzle!

On the opposite side of the scale, one of the smallest cars in the rally are the Coronel brothers Tim and Tom in their 800kg single-seater McRae buggies. Twin brothers in twin cars. “Lightness is good for the Dakar,” Tim explained. “You can brake much later for corners and the handling is excellent.” With a 237bhp 1400cc Suzuki Hayabusa engine in the back it also goes quite well too! Weight saving has been the biggest development focus and when you can shave nearly 10% off the body weight you can expect noticeably better performance. “30kg of that came from the tyres and we have an amazing new design from Maxxis that is 5kg per tyre lighter than last year.” That’s quite impressive seeing as the tyres are quite small… but the sidewalls are so strong that they are actually bullet proof! We’ll be seeing these scaled up in ULTRA4 racing before too long.

One of the most standard vehicles in the race is the No 420 the Dakar Dream Land Rover 110. Some of the service vehicles are better prepped… but Ali Gharib was all smiles as he explained that the engine, gearbox, transfer case and axles are all standard Land Rover. The shafts are Ashcroft, the rear trailing arms are a lot longer and the selection of shocks on each corner are seriously heavy-duty ones, but for Solihul fans and lovers of the underdog, this is all Land Rover!

On the shortlist for the most stunning vehicle award is to the El Martilio team Jimco buggy. It’s basically a Class 1 Baja buggy with a flattened Dodge Ram front grill and some lovely flowing curves, but there have been a lot of changes from a SCORE car to a Dakar one and we’ll go more in depth about those changes later.

The paper trail with crowds of non-plussed teams wondering around getting their check-in cards stamped wasn’t too much fun but then it was out into the long queue for scrutineering. There is a long list of acceptable parts that ASO publish… in fact, it’s a book… and although everything was checked before the cars were put on the boat in France they seal several components such as the air restrictor box so that there can be no tampering during the event. If an official pops around to your service area and the seal is broken you better have a very good reason why!

Benedikas watched with a hint of trepidation as the Hi-Lux was hoisted up and the officials went to work with their seals and pliers. Forensic scientists are not as thorough as ASO but all was well and the car was led out to spend the night in Parc Ferme.

Pretty much every car you see here is spotlessly turned out and shiny, (although that will change very soon!) but one that looks like it needs a bit of polish is the Foton team buggy from Chile, co-driven by American Bryan Garvey. “The car won’t shine on the WRC style tracks but it was made for the dunes which is its natural habitat. Dakar co-driving is a bit different from Baja driving with having to read the book, look at the Terrtrip and terrain all at the same time.” We’ll be following his progress along with his Chilean team racing Chinese Fotons!

One car you will definitely see a lot of is Guerlain Chicheritin his zebra striped buggy that was Nasser Al-Attiyah’s ride last year, but my favourite car in the event is No 353, a 3l V6 VW Tdi powered buggy with a VW bug body!

Most people seem quite relaxed despite the horrors that await them bit one with more butterflies than most is Mark Powel. He’s never been to the Dakar before, despite many years doing desert raids in his adopted country of the UAE and was very chuffed to be driving a press car… but had to stand in at the last minute and is now co-driving Marek Dabrowski in the No 311 Orlen Toyota.

The ceremonial start was a stage outside the president’s palace in the centre of Buenos Aires. There was glitter, glamour and badly placed speakers and 150 cars and although people will remember seeing the new Peugeots and Al-Attiyah waving the Argentinean flag it will only be Robby Gordon the crowd will be talking to. In true showman style he jumped the podium again. And I was standing there watching it was a very big smile on my face!

The first stage is 147km of fast flat land with a few jumps and lots of 90 degree turns. To use the words of the guy doing the press briefing this morning, nothing special. The 500km second stage is where the real action starts… And then it’s just 11 more days of the same insanity!

Let’s Do This!

Crónica de Boucou Assistance

El Dakar 2015 se ha terminado.

Todos los camiones, así como el coche de asistencia han llegado a Buenos Aires. De los cinco camiones que tomaron la salida en asistencia de carretera, solo dos han podido llegar clasificados. Una decisión estratégica que todos conocemos que ha permitido llevar a un máximo de clientes hasta el final de este Dakar.

Una peculiaridad en el reglamento hace que los camiones apuntados en la asistencia T4 están autorizados a salir dos veces de la pista para ayudar a los clientes. Si se produce esta situación, los camiones ya no aparecen en la clasificación, pero deben seguir todas las etapas para poder asegurar el servicio que deben a sus clientes. 

Todo el equipo estaba reunido para la gran fiesta del podio y aplaudir a los camiones y coche nºs 400, 518 y 553. 

Chapeau para el equipo mecánico a lo largo de todo este Dakar, que ha trabajado de sol a sol para que cada día los cinco camiones pudieran salir en buenas condiciones.

¡Un Dakar 2015 muy exitoso para el equipo BOUCOU ASSISTANCE!

Etapa 3 / enlace 258 km - especial 284 km / martes 6 enero

Gran parte de la presión que han sufrido los participantes, se relajará en la carretera camino a Chilecito. El menor kilometraje y la intensidad les permitirá disfrutar de la majestuosidad del lugar. Las pistas de tierra roja rodeadas de escarpadas laderas conducen al Dakar hacia el corazón de una de las más hermosas zonas de Argentina.

Tras sortear miles de piedras, una sola puede dar al traste con esta espléndida jornada.

Etapa 2: la más larga / lunes 5 enero

Para camiones, enlace de 315 km y una especial de 331 km.

Para autos, enlace de 107 km y una especial de 518 km

"Antes de llegar a San Juan, los participantes tienen un programa particularmente cargado: la especial más larga de todo el rally, con un grado de variedad capaz de desbaratar a los más aguerridos. Un terreno duro al principio, polvoriento en algunos tramos, y con un final de recorrido muy arenoso. Se trata de un verdadero test, que pasaremos con éxito manteniendo nuestro nivel de vigilancia."

Etapa 1: Un granprólogo: enlace de 663 km / especial de 175 km.

Entramos en el campo argentino a gran velocidad. Todos los elementos están aquí presentes para que cada uno pueda expresarse, con sencillos criterios. Caminos rápidos, curvas que se van encadenando, que irán repartiendo los vehículos en función del nivel de cada piloto que verán sus nervios puestos a prueba en esta primera especial.

Al final de esta etapa de calentamiento, un largo enlace completará la jornada hasta el primer vivac.

Crónica Team Tartarin Sport

Dernière étape

"Aucun des pilotes du Dakar ne considère la partie gagnée avant de venir à bout de cette ultime journée. Et pour cause, puisque chaque année, au moins un véhicule abandonne dans le dernier exercice. Sur les pistes rapides de la spéciale au programme, la prudence est de rigueur, tout au moins pour ceux qui n’ont pas un rang à défendre. Car le podium qui attend les géants de l’édition 2015 sur le site de Technopolis à Buenos Aires sera pour tous le grand moment d’émotion qu’ils sont venus chercher."

Etienne Lavigne, patron du Dakar, résume cette édition : "Un Dakar dans la légende ! Briefing au départ à Buenos Aires : vous allez être surpris ! Mission accomplie : canicule – neige - eau – sel – 4900 m – orage … un grand bravo aux rescapés ! c’est dans la difficulté que l’on se réalise."

Résultats 56ème de l’étape – 49ème au général

Etape 11

L’étape d’hier aura de nouveau été dévastatrice pour les concurrents du Dakar. Huit motards ont abandonné, dont le vainqueur d’étape Matthias Walkner, deux des trois premiers du général quads ont également dû renoncer et enfin quatre voitures dont la Mini de Nani Roma n’ont pas vu l’arrivée à Salta. Sur 406 concurrents au départ de Buenos Aires toutes catégories confondues, seuls 224 sont encore en course.

Après les ennuis rencontrés avec les freins dans la spéciale d’hier (toute la spéciale sans freins à l’avant et seulement 20% à l’arrière), Yves et Stéphane pointaient à seulement 15 mn du leader au CP2, ce qui laissait présager une journée sans encombre. D’autant que cette spéciale courte, rapide, typée WRC, faisait la part belle au pilotage.

Mais c’était sans compter avec les problèmes d’Albert Llovera et Alex Haro Bravo. Arrêté au km 170 de la spéciale, l’équipage va être tracté par Yves et Stéphane sur les 20 derniers kilomètres, sur cette dernière partie le terrain est défoncé, le fesh fesh omniprésent ! C’est alors un enchaînement de plantages jusqu’à l’incapacité pour Stéphane d’ouvrir sa portière tellement la voiture est enfoncée dans le fesh !

Ce soir, tout se termine pour le mieux, les deux véhicules sont sur le bivouac de Termas de Rio Hondo. Encore des heures de mécanique en perspective pour l’équipe technique !

Résultats: 63ème de l’étape – 47ème au général

Etape 10

Après la frontière chilo-argentine, c'est cette fois sur les Salinas Grandes, à plus de 3.600 mètres, que commence la spéciale du jour. L'altitude pourrait calmer les ardeurs et les moteurs. Les plus robustes se départageront dans un final plutôt technique. Partis en 65ème position en raison de leur mauvais classement de la veille, Yves Tartarin et Stéphane Duplé réalisent une belle remontée tout au long de la journée, ils pointaient 62ème au CP1 et terminent la spéciale 56ème.

Aujourd’hui encore, le Dakar n’a pas épargné les concurrents : - 10° sur la liaison, orage et boue sur certains secteurs et des trous creusés par les pluies de ces derniers jours. Malgré tout, Yves et Stéphane sont toujours là.

Demain le Dakar va suivre en partie la fameuse Ruta 40 pour rejoindre Termas de Rio Hondo.

Les résultats : 56ème de l’étape – 46ème au général.

Etape 9

L’organisateur avait annoncé une spéciale très difficile, les concurrents empruntaient la piste de l’an dernier dans l’autre sens avec pratiquement que du fesh fesh pendant 350 km !

Après avoir franchi 40 km de dunes et une énorme zone de fesh, Yves et Stéphane se sont arrêtés pour une réparation de fortune sur la roue arrière gauche, 3 goujons HS sur 6. Ils décident de quitter cette piste de folie pour partir en hors piste. C’est donc avec beaucoup de retard qu’ils viennent de passer la ligne d’arrivée !

Sorti de la spéciale, Yves raconte "le fait d’être au bivouac est rassurant car on pensait bien rester sur la piste qui est quasi impraticable, après avoir pris la décision de quitter ces zones de fesh fesh, nous n’avons donc pas validé tous nos waypoints, nous allons réparer et prendre le départ demain, nous allons certainement être sanctionnés"

Nous attendons donc les classements d’Yves Tartarin et Stéphane Duplé, non communiqués à cette heure tardive.

Etape 8

Pour la première fois de l'histoire du Dakar, trois courses se déroulent le même jour sur trois parcours totalement différents ! En camion, c'est double ration de sable pour ce deuxième jour en autonomie, le retour sur Iquique réserve son lot de plantages. Les avantages pris pendant l'étape marathon pourraient se révéler décisifs dans la bataille pour le titre de la catégorie.

Retour sur la première partie de l’étape marathon… En plus des conditions atmosphériques particulières, une liaison culminant à 4700m, les conditions météorologiques n’ont pas épargné les concurrents… L’eau était présente sur plusieurs zones du parcours et un orage a même éclaté pendant la spéciale, les rios se sont gorgés d’eau rendant certains passages très délicats. Yves et Stéphane ont perdu un peu de temps en essayant de changer de vallée mais finalement mauvaise option…

Ils ont suivi un petit rythme volontairement pour ménager la voiture déjà éprouvée et perdu quelques minutes pour Romain Dumas en grande difficulté. Ils ont atteint le bivouac d’Uyuni perché à 3500m après un 61ème temps au scratch.

Un départ en ligne ce matin sur le salar d’Uyuni, tout simplement magnifique !

Une spéciale raccourcie avec en plus 274 km de neutralisation, pas de grand chamboulement au classement général. Yves et Stéphane terminent cette étape à la 60ème place.

Demain, une journée entière pour réviser le Pick up (journée de repos pour la catégorie auto), ensuite il reste encore 5 étapes avant de retrouver Buenos Aires, la route est longue… 3336 km exactement.

Les résultats : 60ème de l’étape – 44ème au général

Etape 7

Iquique - Uyuni. Week-end bien particulier pour les participants encore en course sur le Dakar 2015 : entre le Chili et le salar d'Uyuni, en Bolivie, c'est en effet une étape marathon de deux jours, où aucune assistance n'est admise, qui a été tracée par les organisateurs. Les autos ont eu le privilège de monter en premier sur le perchoir d’Uyuni ce samedi, laissant les motos et les quads au repos (ils feront le parcours aller dimanche, quand les autos feront le retour à Iquique).

Depuis 2007, le Dakar n'avait pas réservé une étape marathon aux autos. La dernière fois, c'était à Tichit et les anciens s'en souviennent encore tant c'était dantesque. Comme leurs amis motards, les équipages auront droit à un peu de mécanique en arrivant à Uyuni puisqu'aucune assistance n'est admise. La consigne est simple : éviter le moindre choc pour préserver la machine jusqu'au retour à Iquique.

Les résultats : 61ème de l’étape – 45ème au général

Etape 4

Après les deux dernières spéciales fatales à bon nombre de concurrents, on aurait pu imaginer une étape plus roulante d’après le profil annoncé.

Bien au contraire, les pilotes ont fait preuve de dextérité pour déjouer les pièges des pistes caillouteuses, recouvertes de fesh fesh, encore une journée difficile avec beaucoup de crevaisons.

Partis 64ème ce matin avec toujours pour objectif de soutenir les équipes du Team MD, Yves et Stéphane en ont fait l’expérience. Une crevaison en début de spéciale, un arrêt pour Albert Llovera et un tuyau de frein arrière éclaté (les 20 derniers kilomètres sans frein) résument leur journée.

Arrivé au bivouac, Yves nous raconte:"spéciale hyper cassante avec zone de fesh fesh, nombreux cailloux et saignées, vraiment aucun plaisir de pilotage, toujours dans la poussière ! Nous sommes bien usés ! Ce soir en plus de la révision générale du véhicule, il faut donc réparer le tuyau de frein et changer une rotule. Demain l’organisateur donnera le départ en mélangeant autos et camions, cela s’annonce périlleux ! "

Les résultats: 56ème de l'étape – 46ème au général

Etape 3

Pour Yves et Stéphane, la journée a été cadencée par les pannes des concurrents du Team MD Rallye. (Albert Llovera, Pascal Thomasse mais également Romain Dumas). En effet, journée difficile pour quelques équipes du Team, avec peut-être l’abandon de Pascal Thomasse ce soir.

Concernant notre équipe, rien à déplorer côté mécanique. Par contre, une double crevaison en doublant un concurrent et une troisième dans les dunes. Yves et Stéphane sortent de cette spéciale après avoir parcouru les dix derniers kilomètres dans les dunes, de nuit !

Beaucoup de concurrents sont encore dans le bac à sable à cette heure.

Les résultats: 59ème de l’étape – 46ème au général

Etape 2

Tandis que les premières voitures se présentent au départ de la spéciale, certaines équipes sont encore sur le parcours d'hier. Il manque plus de 30 voitures au départ, soit ¼ des concurrents dans la catégorie auto !

Ce qui confirme les quelques mots d’Yves Tartarin à la sortie de la spéciale d’hier. "La spéciale a été terrible de par son profil mais surtout la chaleur ! Grâce au bon classement de la veille, nous sommes partis dans le bon tempo mais plusieurs concurrents plantés devant nous dans le fesh fesh, nous ont obligés à partir en hors piste… résultats pare brise HS, aile arrière droite très abimée et une crevaison. Nous sommes malgré tout très satisfaits mais mort physiquement comme beaucoup de concurrents ! Matthieu a réalisé un super travail cette nuit, la voiture était au top."

Etape 1

Yves Tartarin et Stéphane Duplé, concurrents N° 426, ont bouclé en 1H38 à la 60ème place, ils doivent encore parcourir 519 km de liaison avant de rejoindre le bivouac de Villa Carlos Paz.

Les premiers commentaires d'Yves sur ce Dakar "nous avons doublé beaucoup de concurrents dans la poussière en première partie de la spéciale, ensuite impossible de doubler un 4X4 qui roulait quasi à la même vitesse, le risque était trop important ! Une étape très rapide, nous avons souvent pris 192km/h sur les petites pistes. Mon coéquipier Stéphane a été au top dans la navigation ! Seul bémol, en sortant de la spéciale, nous avons constaté 2 soufflets de cardan déboités ! Nous avons encore une longue route avant le bivouac et demain la spéciale la plus longue du Dakar nous attend."

Nuestros equipos en la carrera

Yves Tartarin y Stéphane Duplé - Team Tartarin Sport

18ª participación al Dakar de Yves Tartarin y su copiloto Stéphane Duplé que este año participan con la escudería MD Rallye Sport.

Su vehículo es un PickUp N03 Nissan, motor V8 360cv. 

Team Aventure 77

¡Equipo 100% femenino, que se lanza en este gran desafío que es el Dakar! Una meta: llegar!

Con Eric Tauzin, el team manager, la asistencia y los mecánicos (Jef, Seb y Loïc), y Catherine y Sandrine (que cuentan con varias participaciones en el Rally AÏcha des Gazelles), presentamos aquí un equipo experto y veterano,que emprende con muchas ganas esta mágica aventura.

Team Boucou Assistance

Michel Boucou y Bruno Bouey vuelven a las pistas del Dakar 2015, serán la asistencia oficial de los MINIS (BMW X RAID).

¡Estarán presentes con 4 a 5 camiones T4 en pista y 4 a 5 camiones T5 (vivac), más 1 a 2 coches en pista!

¡Un gran equipo que cuenta con unas 35 a 40 personas!

Presentación Dakar 2015

Competición 4x4 - Dakar 2015

Tres países: Argentina, Chile y Bolivia

Los pilotos y equipos del Dakar 2015 van a descubrir, o reencontrar, la gran belleza de los paisajes de estos tres países, así como la gran dificultad de este rally raid.

La etapa maratón vuelve, esta vez para todos, ya que camiones y autos también deberán realizarla.

Otra innovación: día de descanso alterno, lo que cambiará el ritmo global de la carrera.



Buenos Aires - Iquique - Buenos Aires : Un bucle a la antigua.

El público argentino se prepara para acoger, con entusiasmo, esta nueva edición del Dakar.

Este año, la etapa maratón será para todos. Desde hace tres años, solo participaban en ella los pilotos de las categorías moto y quad. A lo largo de dos días, los pilotos no pueden acceder a la asistencia, tienen que realizar el mantenimiento y reparación de sus vehículos ellos mismos. ¡Una dificultad añadida!

Esta etapa invita a vivir momentos muy intensos y especiales, que quedarán grabados para siempre en las memorias de los participantes.

La edición del 2015 marcará también el inicio de los días de descanso alternos, según las categorías.Iquique, situada en la punta norte del recorrido, acogerá durante tres días el vivac del rally, en un entorno visual único.


La edición 2014 en fotos

¡Aquí encontrarás la edición completa del Dakar 2014!

¡Vivamos juntos nuestra pasión! Euro4x4parts te acompaña y apoya en tus eventos 4x4.

Encuentra nuestro catálogo completo de recambios y accesorios 4x4. Tú también puedes unirte a la comunidad Euro4x4parts, haciendo clic aquí:

Todas las fotos de este artículo han sido tomadas en carreteras, caminos autorizados, terrenos privados o durante competiciones supervisadas. Por el bien de todos, conservemos nuestro medio ambiente.