Part 2: A Taste of the Race

Question: Why do people stand so close to the action? Answer: You'd have to be there to understand

It’s difficult to capture the pure adrenalin rush that standing a few feet away from these monsters gives you.  For just a taste, go here for a clip of Robby Gordon hauling ass in his Hummer, followed very closely by the leading truck and ever-present helicopters. Robby was probably going close to 100mph in this clip.

This section of the race comes down South America’s largest sand dune, near the city of Iquique.  This took place on a Thursday and there were thousands of people lined up at this race watch spot not including the thousands lining the streets of Iquique to watch the competitors drive to the Bivouac.

How difficult is this race?  To give you a personal perspective, I crashed no less that five times trying to make it through the dunes to the viewing area, a half-mile stretch.   These were rather shallow soft dunes, they weren’t even mini-dunes, but micro-dunes compared to what these guys go through.  My teeth were clinched as I barrowed into them at….maybe 10 mph – not the 50, 60 ,70, 80 mph these guys do.

After today, I’m not sure I deserve a seat at the Adult’s Table.

Different terrain, same excitement. Each daily stage has a few viewing areas set aside in which fans can come out and watch the action -- for free. This is the leading BMW Diesel car careening through the bog in the early dasys of the race. Notice the crowds.

Just like a NASCAR race. If there's a race, then there's a tailgating party, even in South America. One cannot overstate the amount of partying and excitement the race causes in every town it passes. These Argentines offer us a beer and some BBQ beef as we look pretty tired just getting to ths site. And this is just mid-way through our first day of riding.

These are real Iron Men. This is the motorcycle start of a stage in Chile (see video of start here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfAPLErhWQg . At this point, more than half of the motorcycle competitors are out because they couldn’t make it to the daily finish in time allowed. There is no way to explain how tough this is; these folks ride in terrain that only the very, very best off-road racers dare to go. They do it for fifteen days straight. If they have any problems “out there,” they have to take care of them by themselves. When they get to camp each night, they have to prep for the next day’s ride. Our tour group was tired after each day’s riding along just a portion of the pavement part of the race. This is tough. Real tough.

Well not everyone is an Iron MAN. This competitor had to be helped at the line. They were just 5’ tall and way too short to stand on a Dakar bike with both feet on the ground. Solution? Crewman put a rock under their foot to balance at the start. Same competitor without their helmet reveals this is an Iron WOMAN. I felt like a true wimp having just taken my life into my hands riding the mile through mild sand to get to the viewing station.

A city that is built, lived in, torn down, and moved EVERY day (usually in the middle of nowhere). The “Bivouac” is the daily camp where all the competitors, support teams, media and officials rebuild what broke today and prepare for tomorrows. The Bivouac houses thousands of people and hundreds of vehicles and is built from scratch every single day. So, while the racers are off racing, the support crews break camp, drive to the next camp, re-build the campsite and await the arrival of their team members. This caravan moves across country causing as much excitement as the racers themselves.

Extremes. On the left is one of four VW prototypes being worked on shortly after it arrives from the day’s stage. VW is dominating the car race occupying the top 3 positions. They are spending big money with hundreds of people. The motorcyclist on the right couldn’t even make it inside the Bivouac, having to camp with his one support member outside the fence.

To the winner go the spoils. Winning the Dakar is equivalent to winning the Indianapolis 500 and gets similar attention in worldwide media (except the US of course). Carlos Sainz, the VW driver who won the race, gets out of his car and faces this onslaught of attention every day. Just a few feet away, his VW teammate, American Mark Miller --all the way down in third -- can’t get arrested.

The Russians are coming and they’re big and fast. No race report would be complete without covering the race’s most popular vehicle type— big, really big, really fast trucks. These monsters are the size of Semis’, but half the length. They’re so fast that they lead many oft the top car drivers and are easily in the top ten overall. Three top trucks are crewed by Russians and they’re big, fast, and angry.

To see one of these big guys up close in action, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LBPVUtKkJs

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