The Race2Recovery blog: Our eventful weekend
Today, the Dakar got high. After six days of dune bashing, the exhausted crews were asked to travel 751km across the Andes in Argentina. Altitude is a strange companion. You can be the fittest person in the world and still get whacked by an irrational sickness at the mountain top. According to the satnav system in my Land Rover Discovery support vehicle, we reached a peak altitude today of 4853m, or just under 16,000 feet in old money. At this height, you really can sense and even taste the thinness of the air.
For hundreds of miles, we drifted through a vast, craggy wilderness, crossing from Chile to Argentina and ultimately descending to abivouac near the characterful town of Salta. For the support crews, it was a day to crack out the cameras, but the competitors had little respite.
Having travelled through the night, Matt O’Hare and Philip ‘Barney’ Gillespie only just made it to the start of today’s stage. “To be honest, I don’t know how we’re keeping going,” said Gillespie, “but on we go.” Their resilience and determination has been incredible to behold.
Their troublesome Wildcat, ‘Joy’, suffered fuelling problems en route but they made it to the bivouac in Salta at 2am. The mechanics immediately went to work to fix the problem and the intrepid duo will this morning start stage 8 to Tucuman.
Last night, the mood in the bivouac was also lifted by the return of Ben Gott, who crashed out of the rally on the previous stage. X-rays revealed no broken bones and ace mechanic Gott will now work to assist the remaining Wildcat. “We were cruising and the ditch just came out of nowhere,” said Gott. “It was a big accident but we’re OK. It’s a shame because we going really well, but that’s the Dakar.”
Yesterday, a French rider, Thomas Bourgin, 25, was tragically killed as he made his way to the start of the seventh stage. He collided with a Chilean police car travelling in the opposite direction on a road section. The Race2Recovery team wish to express express their great sadness to his family and friends and offer their most sincere condolences.
Today was supposed to be another monster for the Race2Recovery team, but then the rain came and washed away the jeopardy. The special stage was cut short by flash floods and the team retired to the bivouac in Tucumán, Argentina, in spirits as high as the altitude.
Tomorrow is the Dakar’s only rest day. It’s an opportunity for the drivers and co-drivers to catch up on sleep, but the mechanics will be hard at work prepping the car for the week ahead. “Calling it a ‘rest’ day is a bit of a misnomer,” reckons Team Manager Andrew ‘Pav’ Taylor. “For the mechanics, it’s probably the busiest day of the rally.”
Taylor is an impressive guy. An army medic who was injured in an attack by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, he has led Race2Recovery through an extraordinary week. “Introduction’s to the Dakar come no tougher than this,” he admits. “It’s been hard, but we’ve kept going.
“These were exceptional guys even before they were injured and they’ve all shown incredible character. Our first target when we arrived was to get to the rest day. We achieved that with one of our Wildcats. Now the next target is to get to the finish in Santiago de Chile on January 20th.”
Today was the Dakar’s only rest day and the drivers and co-drivers had a decent night’s sleep for the first time in a week. For those still left in the rally it was also a chance to reflect on the hard work done and to look ahead to another challenging week. Tomorrow is the longest stage of the rally, an 852km epic to Córdoba that includes a 593km special stage. Intemperatures that are likely to hit 45 degrees Celsius, it will be another extraordinary test of endurance.
For the mechanics, today was anything but a rest day. The team’s mechanics have been working all day to fix the problems that have blighted the team’s remaining Wildcat, ‘Joy’, since the first stage. “We’ve had a huge list of things to do,” says mechanic Sean Whatley. “On the Dakar you’ve got limited resources so you need some lateral thinking. We’ve done everything we can to improve the cooling for the fuel system, even scavenging parts from our retired cars to improve the efficiency of the radiators. Joy has new oil and new tyres and she’s ready to go. The next few days are going to be tough for all of us, but we’re ready for the challenge.”Tagged in: dakar, land rover, race2 recovery, rally, weekend
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