Journey to the heart of the Dakar Rally: the shocking experience of a day in the desert

Cyril Despres in action on the dunes (Infobae)

The invitation of the press team of the Dakar Rally It was irresistible: spending a day in it to see live and direct the vehicles of the toughest race in the world. The dreamed day came true and those images could be witnessed first-hand in the sand of Africa, or in the Nihuil dunes in Mendoza or the Calama desert. This Tuesday Infobae he was a privileged witness to be in a section of the third stage in Al Qaisumah.

The scheduled time was at 5.15 in the morning in the press room, and there an Isuzu 4×4 truck drove by Marion, a member of the organization, approached. In the right armchair was Stéphane, photographer from L’Equipe. The journey that lasted about two hours to cover 185 kilometers on a route that leads to Riyadh began. At one point the driver saw that the GPS told her to cross to the left and in the best style of the Dakar Rally the adventure began.

The organization’s truck must comply with a series of security measures such as the roll cage, just like the vehicles that run. Marion was sent through a field full of stones and after a kilometer (estimated) reached the destination. After about 500 meters, the flat with earth began to turn into sand and the dunes began to travel where the driver moved like a fish in water. The height of the dunes began to vary and the reference point was reached.

Dakar Rally:
Marion drives the truck of the Dakar Rally organization, which must comply with a series of measures such as the roll cage (Infobae)

There the silence invaded and Marion invited a coffee that she prepared at the moment with a gas stove. Being a vehicle of the organization, it has everything you need in the event of any mishap. There some German photographers appeared who spent the night in the dunes and from afar the sound of a helicopter began to be heard, those who film the competition, and it was a clear sign that the action was about to begin.

The sound of the aircraft generated anxiety and adrenaline, especially when the engine of a motorcycle appeared that looked for it, but was not seen at the beginning. But the experience of Marion and the photographers, experts in where to locate to immortalize a moment, helped to get a good place.

They walked down a dune while the motor of the motorcycle was heard louder, but still not seen. Until the chosen sector was the top of a dune of about 10 meters. There were some tracks that indicated that the machines were passing through there. The beginning of the excitement was imminent and the heart beat faster.

A few seconds later the engine was heard closer and finally a Honda was seen poking out of the dunes. When he got down, his image was lost, but he continued the journey and Infobae He was a luxury spectator and the Japanese machine corresponded to the Chilean Jose Ignacio Cornejo. Then followed the Austrian Matthias walkner (KTM) and the American Ricky brabec (Honda), to name a few of those who followed that day and the rest of the competitors. Seeing live and direct, just a few meters from where they traveled, allowed us to hear that when they reached the top of the dune they left the engine in neutral, a second, but enough so that it did not turn off at the highest point. Once there, they put the first gear in, accelerate and begin to descend the dune.

Another helicopter was added, which gave the moment more spectacularity and the motorcycle parade was a luxury since the machines of this mythical race were seen in their most genuine terrain. And just the category of the two wheels, the most emblematic, since the creator of this competition, the remembered Thierry Sabine, after getting lost in a race in the African desert in 1977, shaped the Dakar Rally whose first edition was between December 1978 and January 1979.

Spectators began to join, a handful of fans who wanted to witness a unique moment. First they were an Italian father and son who raved at the passing of Danilo petrucci (He left on Monday and in those cases the organization allows them to continue in the race, but with a penalty), a MotoGP figure who runs his first Dakar Rally. “Petru, Petru!” It was the cry of the young man, with great emotion. People joined, including some Saudis, an audience that little by little began to be infected with the Dakar Rally.

Stéphane recommended moving and walked about 100 meters in the direction of the course to see more ups and downs. The photographer’s hawk eye was right, the passage of the motorcyclists was better seen.

Witnessing their skidding a few meters away did not matter the sand that they scattered and that soiled the clothing of those who saw their transit. Then Marion proposed to advance about 300 meters and there was another good perspective.

The cold and the wind could not against the passion while a sun that began to beat strongly accompanied an unforgettable day. Suddenly silence returned and we had to wait 20 minutes to see the cars. Only the voices of those who were there and the engine of a truck that got stuck were heard (it was from some local young people who received the help of Marion).

Dakar Rally: a day in the desert
Marion helping to take out a truck of some local youth (Infobae)

Until again the helicopters were the prologue of emotion. In the distance an engine began to be heard and it was that of the first car, the one that opened the way this Tuesday, the prototype of the Sebastien loeb that on Monday he had won stage 2 in cars.

It is one thing to see it on TV and another is to see it live on the scene. It is amazing how fast they have and how they move from one side to the other. When they reached the dunes it was felt how they apply maximum power to go up and then accelerate when they go down. Some are sent straight and others pass the top of the dunes sideways.

While it was shocking to see and listen closely to the electric Audi with that impeller that sounds sharper than the rest, but no less slow when applying speed to the point that this Tuesday Carlos Sainz he won the stage and gave the first victory to a car powered by this alternative energy in 44 years of Dakar Rally history.

Dakar Rally: a day in the desert
Little by little the Saudis are getting a taste for the Dakar Rally (Infobae)

After an hour there were more fans, including French, Italians, Germans, Dutch, Swiss and Saudis. The most effusive, obviously, the tanos.

The vehicles were separated by two minutes each and the place chosen to see them was one of the best due to the height of the dunes and that is why the two helicopters accompanied the day.

Driving a vehicle through the dunes is a technique that is learned and it is not just being behind the wheel of a 4×4. That is why seeing the cars and then the UTVs, the sandboxes, at high speed, made it necessary to record videos and take photos. Tame these machines to the highest standards is not suitable for any mortal, that is why it turns these pilots into special beings. They do something that the rest are not trained and repeat over the course of two weeks with exhaustion and the stress of the competition.

Dakar Rally: a day in the desert
Audrey Rossat goes through the dune and the gaze of the public (Infobae)

This competition is characterized by the fact that not only the fastest wins, but the one who knows how to take the best care of the vehicle. It is a survival for two weeks where sports effort and the strategy of when to accelerate or not are combined on terrain that is usually treacherous that can cause abandonment due to an error or mechanical damage. In addition, something key is navigation, knowing how to read and interpret the roadmap to avoid getting lost on the route.

This edition of the Dakar Rally in particular has a lot of sand and dunes abound. Being the fastest on these surfaces will imply victory and, as in the old days, the winner could receive the classic title of the “King of the Desert”, that symbolic crown that was given to the victor in Africa.

After noon, it was time to return to the Al Qaisumah camp. The reunion with Marion and Stéphane was in the van. They both asked what the experience looked like: “unique, fascinating and unrepeatable” was the answer.


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