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The Race2Recovery blog: The longest stage

dakar rally1 300x225 The Race2Recovery blog: The longest stageAs if to punish the drivers for having a rest, the organisers made the ninth stage of the Dakar the longest in this year’s event. This was an 852km epic, from Tucumán to Cordoba that included a 593km special stage. For the Race2Recovery team and their one remaining Wildcat, ‘Joy’, it would present another fearsome test.

Yesterday, the team’s mechanics spent the ‘rest’ day trying to solve the cooling and fuelling problems that have blighted Joy since thebeginning of the rally. Everyone went to bed knowing their handiwork would be tested in the forty degrees heat of Argentina.

dakar rally3 300x225 The Race2Recovery blog: The longest stageMatt O’Hare and co-driver Philip ‘Barney’ Gillespie left the bivouac at 8.30am to begin another marathon adventure. Today’s stage would focus on tight, gravel tracks, the sort of terrain used employed by the World Rally Championship when it visits Argentina. The special stage was split into two parts, linked by a section of road.

It was the hottest day of the rally, but the intrepid trio – O’Hare, Gillespie and Joy – emerged from the first stage in buoyant mood. “Joy hasn’t overheated once,” said O’Hare, “we’ve actually been overtaking other cars. It’s a fantastic feeling.” Gillespie, an amputee who lost his right leg serving in Afghanistan, was equally ebullient. “It might just be that we can complete the stage without driving through the night.”

dajar rally2 300x225 The Race2Recovery blog: The longest stageThey are also having to get used to superstar status. ‘Joy’ was mobbed when she pulled into a filling station to refuel. It’s doubtful that even Argentinean golden boy Lionel Messi would have received as much attention as the two guys in dirty overalls and a tired old car. After completing the rest of the stage, Joy finally rolled into the bivouac just before 1am. “This was supposed to be the longest stage in the Dakar, but it wasn’t for us,” said Gillespie. “I’m off to bed.”

At this point, you might be thinking that was the first trouble-free day the Race2Recovery team has experienced in the Dakar, but you’d be wrong. Both of the team’s giant support trucks broke down on route, leaving the crews stranded by the roadside. The supporters now had to become the supported. An improvised roadside clutch change got one of the vehicles mobile again, but the other truck had to be towed by the team’s T4 race truck for almost 300km to the bivouac. It finally arrived after midnight.

These trucks contain the team’s infrastructure and spare parts. All the team’s support vehicles, including the Land Rover Discovery’s that carry team members from stage to stage, have a critical role to play. If the trucks can’t be fixed, the Dakar mission will be seriously compromised. At first light, they must find some sort of solution. For the exhausted team members, this is yet another extraordinary twist in a crazy story. “It’s been a tough, tough day again,” says Charles Sincock, who drove the T4. “But the great news is that Joy’s doing well. That’s what’s keeping us going.”

While Sincock tries to fix his truck, co-driver Tom Neathway is trying to mend his right prosthetic leg, which has broken down in the heat and dust. He’s currently attempting to recharge it using one of the Discovery’s. If Race2Recovery was a Hollywood script, no-one would believe it.

The Race2Recovery team has set out to prove that serious injuries are no barrier to extraordinary achievement, and to raise money for the Tedworth House Personnel Recovery Centre. Donations to the team’s fundraising campaign can be made at www.race2recovery.com

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