Late Night In Iquique. The Bizzare in the Bivouac.

Desert Warrior Needs Springs.
Robby Gordon Finishes First But Is Disqualified
Nassar Al-Attiya Bows Out.

Some purists might argue that the South American Dakar is nothing like the original African Dakar. I would argue that the African fans could never be as passionate and excited as the fans here in South America. And certainly I don’t think any of the residents here in South America would kill anyone as they did in Africa in 2007 and therefore forcing the A.S.O., the Dakar organization, to move the race to Argentina and Chile and for 2012, the first time in Peru.

In Argentina they were everywhere. Fans lined the streets of cities, small towns and in the middle of the pampas, all of them honking horns, waving flags, thumbs up in the air, waving their arms in accelerated windmill moves as cars zoom by. If we had to stop, even for a short relief from the massive intake of water we’ve been drinking, it wouldn’t be long before someone would appear, usually thrusting a flag, photo, or a piece of paper and a pen hoping for an autograph.

“Foto, foto, foto, mister,” they’d plead, “please mister, foto, foto, foto.” For many South American residents, getting close to the Dakar convoy is like getting close to rock stars. It’s hard to imagine this passion in the United States. It just wouldn’t happen.

I wonder what the fans will do with all the photographs and video they take of cars just whisking by there homes or downtown areas. We saw many fans who perhaps didn’t own cameras, but that didn’t prevent them from capturing the action as they sat on the roadside with small tablet and laptop computers aimed at the road, obviously using built-in cameras to record the Dakar frenzy.

But off-road rally racing has been embedded in South American culture much in the way that baseball and football are in the United States. Now in Chile, we travel longer distances over barren desert, so the fans aren’t lining the streets as they did in Argentina, but as we roll through small fishing villages and larger towns they hover around intersections, stand on the medians and practically hang from the traffic lights.

Most just want to see and watch. Others are hoping for hats, t-shirts and stickers. We’ve been running low on stickers and didn’t bring many t-shirts, so sometimes one of us simply pulls the shirt off our back and hands it to a passionate follower. But it’s the hats that we weren’t prepared for—most of the fans point to their heads, or yell “gorra, gorra”.

“Foto, foto, foto, mister,” they’d plead, “please mister, foto, foto, foto.” For many South American residents, getting close to the Dakar convoy is like getting close to rock stars. It’s hard to imagine this passion in the United States. It just wouldn’t happen.
The Antofagasta to Iquique stage runs 565 km, of which only 9km is liaison. The course winds through several desetrt canyons, rocky river beds and miles of deep powdery silt, fondly referred to by competitors as “fesh-fesh”. This nasty baby powder like silt gets into air filters, turbochargers, wheel bearings and brakes and into the cabs of the driver and co-driver making for a messy and uncomfortable drive in temperatures pushing 110 degrees Fahrenheit. But the end of the stage brings them down a steep hill and onto the shores of the Pacific Ocean where a gentle breeze provided relief for the heat and an amazing sunset for the spirit.

Our Canadian teammate made it through the long stage and arrived into Iquique past dark, having struggled with some of the sand and dunes. The gnarly river beds and massive rocks had taken its toll on the suspension of our friend’s banana colored Desert Warrior. Many of the springs broke. So rather than enjoy the bivouac and explore and watch the other cars and techs do their work, Raff and Bill removed the shock and spring assemblies from all four wheels and helped Aldo racing, Yvan and Pavel secure them on the Aldo steed so tomorrow Dave and Patrick could make their start time in the morning.

The replacement suspension components for the Desert Warrior included a set of “not as good” Fox shocks and springs. But when the crew fitted them to Darkcyd’s Desert Warrior, they discovered the fit wasn’t right. The bushings or spacers needed to secure a proper fit were too small. While we are slated to pick up new brake pads in the morning, finding correctly sized bushings here in the middle of nowhere would be impossible.

It wouldn’t be impossible to make new bushings, however. We would need a machine shop. While the Darkcyd T-5 support vehicle and the T-4 and T-5 trucks from Rally Raid UK were well equipped, there was no lathe or other fabrication machines necessary. So in the spirit of Dakar, Bill and Robb confronted the techs at Robby Gordon Racing who allowed Bill to use their machine shop an in a few hours Bill had newly fabricated bushings custom fit to the new Fox shocks.

So even now, well into the race, part of the Darkcyd Desert Warrior is still in the race. In fact, a few days prior one of the other teams, McRae Racing, who are running specially built buggies that utilized the same engine as these Desert Warriors, a BMW 3.5L turbocharged diesel, were having problems with their ECM (electronic control module), again and in the spirit of Dakar, our team loaned our ECM so they could stay in the race.

While the scenery in Iquique is calming and the nearly full moon providing more light as the days are getting shorter the more we move north, life in the bivouac continues to test all those who continue to endure questionable conditions in the portable toilets, so much that Ben still can’t figure out how a human being can miss the toilet by so much, especially when sitting on it, having to witness excrement and feces on the toilet seat, splattered on the floor and the questionable diet seeing it sprayed on the walls. Certianly not a pretty picture but evidence begs the question is how can someone be so crude or disrespectful—not what I’d call in “the spirit of Dakar.”

As for racing, the name of the game here as we click off more and more kilometers, is attrition. We often see flatbed trucks with several wounded motorcycles riding north, large trucks with body parts missing and cars, buggies and SUV trucks damaged, wheels broken and more. By this point I’m sure more than 30% of those who started this race are no longer competing, perhaps more.

As of 9pm in Iquique after the 9th stage, only 106 motorcycles of the 185 that started had finished, 16 of the 33 quads and 65 of the 171 cars. On bikes, Despres finished the stage first by nearly 4 minutes ahead of Coma and thereby taking the lead from him.

Our fellow American team and who helped us with their machine shop, Robby Gordon finished first squeaking a minute and a half ahead of France’s Stepahne Peterhansel. Peterhansel still leads Robby overall by just under 6 minutes.

Perhaps the saddest news of the day for Dakar and the Robby Gordon Racing team is that Nassar al-Attiyah, last years Dakar winner, has withdrawn from the race. Yesterday’s technical problems with wheels and alternator belts, combined with more technical problems today put the Qatar-based Dakar legend too far behind and as such has opted out.

While sad to see Nassar go, the disturbing news running around the bivouac this evening is that the race officials have disqualified Robby Gordon from the race due to “observation of technical non-compliance on vehicle No., 303. The details are fuzzy at this point but word on the street is that Robby Gordon’s special built Hummer uses an automated system for deflation and inflation of its tires. Though I’m sure this system was fitted in the car at scrutineering and inspection, it’s unclear what doesn’t comply. Some have theorized that air from the tires is rerouted to the engine compartment when in deflation and therefore someone might believe this could contribute to increased performance. But that’s a far fetched theory and even more far fetched if the France officials are thinking on these lines.

It is odd that no sitting in 2nd place that the French officials have suddenly found compliance issues with Gordon’s car.

Gordon has filed an appeal and will still be allowed to continue to race. The final decision on winning order and Gordon’s issue will be decided after the appellate process is complete this Spring in Paris.

 

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