Dakar Review I

Man it’s cold in Scotland! Glad to be home and caught up on some sleep.

I thought I’d try to post a few of the random stories I remember from my Dakar now that I have time to do so. Some silly stories, some tough points in the race and maybe some thoughts for anyone else daft enough to consider the Dakar – or any other desert race. It all seems to be a long way away now so these will be in no particular order – and probably spread over more than one post.

THE BIG CRASH. Those who followed twitter will have seen my low point posts at the end of Day 11 after my one big off of the race. Patsy had warned me the night before that it was too easy to start thinking about making up some places at this point in the Rally rather than continuing to ride carefully. She was right. About 100k in to the the stage the piste opened up to a wide flowing track in a canyon. Very pretty and very easy to ride fast with berms on either side you could slide into and launch off. I passed Tamsin and Phil then came across a train of riders and started picking them off one by one. Dust was the only issue but with the bikes I could move around across the wide piste and pick a way through where I could sort of see through the dust. Then I came up behind a quad. Quads make a lot more dust and this guy was really hard to see past. In the dust I didn’t see a 50cm wall of rocks built across the piste with arrow signs directing you around a washed out bit of piste – at least not until I was 1 meter from it at about 80kph. I tried to jump it but clattered one of the big arrow signs (now an ex-sign) and bike and I went somersaulting away. I reckon I was out for a minute or two but the bike was largely ok and I was able to get back on and ride to the end of the day. Very annoyed with myself for getting carried away and not playing safe. Total damage assessment was a couple of cracked ribs, a very stiff neck and a chipped elbow. Sore but nothing to stop me riding. A really stupid one but all in all I got away with it.

THE BLOWN ENGINE. On the evening of Day 12 I arrived in the bivouac to find Tony waiting for me with my spare engine out of it’s box. Apparently he had been worried about the inlet valves on my engine wearing badly and had chosen not to tell me in case I worried about it. He checked and the inlet valves had run out of adjustment completely so he recommended we change the engine and I agreed. Day 13 was the last hard day in the sand and within 5k my clutch was squealing. I nursed it to the end of the stage but was getting more and more worried about the new engine sounding rough – it also seemed to be running hot but it was a very hot day anyway. Trying to tell myself it just sounded different I took a break at the end of stage refuel then discovered the first 140k of liaison was on soft sand piste with lots of fesh fesh. The engine took me nicely through that and out onto the road section of 150k where we could get some speed up and get some air through the radiators (and cool the rider a bit). Happily grunting along at 105kph about 30k from the end the engine burnt the last of its oil and munched itself into bits. After a bit of waiting Argentinian Quad rider Santiago Hansen came to my rescue and agreed to tow me in to the bivouac. That went very well apart from 2k of soft rutted sand which even his Polaris struggled with. Imagine me hanging on for grim death behind. Nevertheless we made it in and Patsy and Tony did another engine change before the final day. There’s no doubt that Santiago saved my Dakar that day. How lucky I was that the engine didn’t go while I was still in the stage or in the soft sand liaison – that would have been me.

CRAIG BOUNDS. The top UK rider in the race by far went out in spectacular style on Day 13 – the second last day. It’s a story worth telling as it tells you a lot about Craig and the type of guy you have to be to be a top Rally rider. In the first set of dunes Craig 690 KTM developed both a clutch problem and a starter problem. The 690 has no kick start and because the problem was in the starter arrangement it couldn’t be jump started. For nearly 10 hours Craig tried to find ways of bump starting it but in the soft sand the rear wheel just dragged and wouldn’t turn the engine. He had two horses strapped to the bike pulling it along. Then he tried a 4×4 but no luck. When the sweeper truck got him he was physically lifting the bike up the dune hoping to run it down the other side. Craig then refused to go with the sweeper truck and give up. They thought he was suffering in the 40 degree heat and called a medical helicopter for him. He had to be wrestled into the helicopter by two or three Argentine army blokes. That is the sort of “never say die” commitment the top guys have – I can but dream. I’m gutted for Craig – he’s an amazing rider and could run with the top riders given the chance.

Craig Bounds