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Old 2nd June 2005, 21:10   #1
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Post Dakar 2005

The Telefonica Rally -Dakar 2005


Introduction:
A test of skill, patience, endurance and, most importantly, mental strength; thatís what the Dakar rally is all about. Considered to be the most prestigious off-road motor-sport event of the year, the rally Dakar covers 9000 kilometres of varying terrain in a span of just 16 days! This yearís event started off in Barcelona, Spain and ended in Dakar, Africa. The rally Dakar is not just a race, it is an experience. Competitors are delighted to finish this rally, let alone winning it. You and your machinery have to endure 16 days of very fast driving over continuously varying terrain. There are no roads here, no people to stop by and ask. All you have for navigation is a basic GPS system that only points at the direction, not the exact route. As you are blasting your way through the desert sands and grasslands, you simply cannot afford to get your navigation wrong. Many a times, drivers land up going in circles, ultimately burning up all their fuel. This rally is held where there is literally no civilization. No people, no petrol pumps, just stark daunting terrain. It is no good having a fast car. You have to know how to drive it through riverbeds, soft sands, rocks and slippery gravel. Additionally you should be a skilled mechanic. Should something go wrong, you simply have to get down in and repair it yourself in the middle of the desert! The event has three categories: bikes, cars and trucks.

Dakar 2005:
This yearís event saw 230 bikes, 164 cars, and 69 trucks at the start-line. Only 104 bikes, 75 cars, and 37 trucks made it to the finish line. Thatís barely 47% of the total entries. The desert had swallowed up the remaining 247 vehicles. In its 27th year of existence, the Dakar 2005 covered of a total of 9039 kms. Competitors were timed for 5433 kms ; the rest were covered in liaison (vehicles travelling together as one whole group). The longest race stage of the rally was from Zouerat to Tichit comprising of 660 kms. The two marathon stages were from Zouerat to Tichit and from Kiffa to Bamako. These stages are unique since the vehicles here cannot be attended to by their respective team mechanics. So, if your vehicle broke down, you either had to repair it on your own or simply withdraw from the rally. The weather played havoc in this yearís rally. Last year, vehicles suddenly hit water patches that left them stranded, their exhausts full of water! This yearís vehicles were modified accordingly only to find almost no water anywhere on the route. Stage 7; from Zouerat to Tichit; through the dreaded Ďsands of Mauritaniaí was particularly chaotic with a sand storm raging throughout the day and night. Even the medical helicopters had to be grounded! Visibility was close to zero! Navigation as a result was virtually impossible and competitors often saw their colleague heading in an exactly opposite direction! Fuel was also a problem here with several competitors exhausting their allotted quota. They were all left stranded and spent the night in the desert waiting for the service crews to arrive. Competitors here took 24 hours more to complete this stage. 51 vehicles were lost in this stage alone and sent out distress signals. As a result, stage 8 was cancelled and competitors travelled in liaison to reach the start of the next stage. J.M. Perez, a rider crashed here and later succumbed to his injuries in Dakar. In some stages, early morning fog also reduced visibility and delayed the start of the dayís stage by several hours.

The race itself:

Bikes:

This year witnessed a close battle for the top spot with Cyril Despres winning the event in 47h 27m 31s, a mere 9m 17s ahead of second place Marc Coma. Third was Alfie Cox finishing 11m 29s behind the leader. The biggest loss of rally was two-time world champion Fabrizio Meoni. The forty-seven year old Italian crashed on stage 11 just after checkpoint 1 and succumbed to his injuries an hour later. Shocked by the incident, the following dayís race stage 12 was cancelled and bikers were airlifted to Bamako to start stage 13.

Cars:

Mitsubishi were looking forward to repeating last yearís 1-2 victory; and they did it in some style. Stephane Peterhansel finished 1st in 52h 31m 39s; 27m 14s ahead of teammate Luc Alphand, both using the Mitsubishi V60. German Jutta Kleinschmidt came in third in her Volkswagen Race Touareg 3h 22m behind the leader. Nissanís hopes of victory came to an abrupt halt as their star driver Colin Mcrae crashed on stage 6. He lost control while doing 100 kph and the car somersaulted thrice before coming to rest. However team-mate De Villers kept going and eventually finished 4th overall in his Nissan Pick-up, 4h 2m 36s behind the leader. BMWís Nasser Al Attiyah also retired after landing heavily on the front and thus damaging his X-Raidís front suspension. The rallyís terrain proved too harsh even on the reliable Mitsubishis. Mitsuís 2-time winner Hiroshi Mashiouka had engine problems while Andrea Meyer also had mechanical problems with her L200 and retired on stage 10. The Mitsus however, were the only cars not to have been stuck in the dreaded soft sands of Mauritania. Cars, trucks and bikes, all had their drivers struggling to keep the vehicle from sinking in.

Trucks:

This yearís truck event was won by the Russian, Firdaus Kabirov in his Kamaz 4911 truck. He took 71h 13m 55s. 4-time winner and teammate Vladimir Tchiguine ran out of fuel on stage 9, thereby incurring a huge time deficit. Mechanical problems meant the father and son duo of De Rooy were left far behind from contention. They finished fourth and fifth. Meanwhile slow and steady Sugawara finished second 6h 4m 19s behind in his Hino and Giacomo Vismara finished third, a further 6h 46m 28s behind in his Mercedes Unimog.


An Afterthought:

This rally is a clear exhibit of manís desire to explore the unexplored, to challenge the impossible and to conquer the unconquerable. The steady increase in the number of entries per year bears testament to this fact. It would be so easy for these men and women to stay snug at home in front of the TV with a cup of coffee. But it is the desire to face a challenge, to do something unusual, to experience something new that drives them to test their physical and mental extremities. One also must appreciate the massive amount of co-ordination that this rally involves at all stages. The organizers must plan out a route for the rally-raiders and organize the distribution of food and fuel. In the event of a mishap, safety crews ought to be able to locate the victim in the shortest possible time, and provide medical assistance until transfer to civilization, which can be hundreds of kilometres away. Accurate timekeeping is also required. The organizers must also be able to keep track of all participants. Keeping track of 400 competitors spread out over 9000 kilometres is no joke. The organizers also must have the ability to Ďthink on their feetí and rapidly adapt to changing scenarios and incidents that havenít been planned for. In this yearís rally, nobody thought stage 7 would be so severe. However, old plans were scrapped, new ones were drawn up smoothly and quickly without loosing the momentum of the race. Stage eight was scrapped and several race stages were shortened and converted to liaisons instead. Its also about clear thinking and getting your priorities right. If the medical helicopters werenít able to take-off, neither would any of the competitors. Planning before a war is far easier compared to planning and altering strategies dynamically when the war is in progress. It is then that ideas in the mind change to ground realities.
The same goes for the competitors and their teams. Coordination and flexible thinking are two of the most important qualities for success in such events. The driver- co-driver dialogue is important when it comes to navigating terrain - fast. Kabirov, well aware of his dwindling fuel supply, drove the final kilometres in 3rd gear at 2000 rpm. in order to conserve his fuel until the finish. Teams must also distribute their resources to keep all four drivers happy. Favouritism and preferential treatment to any one driver spells disaster to the team as a whole. Mental strength is of vital importance. The ability to accept defeat gracefully is a quality very few people possess. To accept that circumstances are beyond your control and you cannot do anything about it also requires a stable mind and rational thinking. It would have been so easy for competitors to simply give up and head home when faced with a difficulty. Instead they stood by and did everything they could so that they could continue. One bike rider tried to get his engine started after water had entered the exhausts. After two hours, he was eventually able to drain it off and roared away triumphantly helped by a fellow biker! Car winner Peterhansel once repaired 3 punctures in a span of 4-5 hours! He simply got down and got to work not thinking about the time that it was costing him; eventually he came out on top! Even after being disqualified (after sending distress signals), competitors still travelled all the way to Dakar to cheer on their comrades. Isolation also teaches you the value of having a partner. Several riders rode in groups to avoid getting lost. On numerous occasions trucks were seen towing cars, cars providing spares to other cars while bikers helped haul each otherís bikes out of the sand. These people, although complete strangers always stood together to face a calamity, just as a large family.
Although not all, at least a few of these qualities might be beneficial and applicable to us in our lives. But to have a first-hand experience, one must take part in the rally to understand its significance, something I hope to do in the near future!


-Ameya Karmarkar
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Old 3rd June 2005, 00:25   #2
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Nicely written Ameya.. though i didnot see the rally after reading your reciew on it i was updated about it.. thanks.. keep them coming..
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Old 3rd June 2005, 19:53   #3
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very well written ameya. got a good picture on a differnet kind of rally.

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