What had started as a great day had quickly sobered into a dramatic and tepid situation. The team arrived at the Bivouac late Monday night. Too tired and feeling beaten, everyone quickly retired to their tents.
Before leaving for Dakar I had arranged to meet my good Chilean friend, Cristian, to meet us in Argentina and travel with us for a few days in the event we needed local support on the ground in Chile. We never expected we’d need his support to help us solve problems for the Darkcyd Racing Team’s T5 support vehicle. But early the next morning it was evident that Raff would need a new transmission oil filter and potentially a new transmission oil pan.
The wheel chock that Robb ran over punctured the oil pan and pushed it up into the oil filter causing it to crack and break the inlet. The bad news is that Chevy 2500 trucks are rare in Chile and only sold by special order—if that. Typically parts are only carried for cars and trucks regularly sold. If there was a filter or pan available in Chile, it still could take 2-5 days to get one to our remote post in the Atacama Desert: Copiapó. The good news is that Chevy uses a third-party transmission by Allison—which are used in many other vehicles and therefore increasing our odds slightly that we might find the necessary parts.
The wheel chock that Robb ran over punctured the oil pan and pushed it up into the oil filter causing it to crack and break the inlet. The bad news is that Chevy 2500 trucks are rare in Chile and only sold by special order—if that.
Cristian was less positive but more than willing to take on the challenge to find the parts. However, Cristian faced his own challenge and frustration. Besides losing us on the long liaison across the border from Argentina into Chile, upon arriving in Copiapó, his bike wouldn’t start after filling up with gas. He convinced a local restaurant to store his bike for the evening. So the next morning he had more on his mind than just finding an oil pan and filter—would he be able to get his bike started? If not, how would he get back to Santiago—a long 1,000km south?
The first two filters that the SALFA Chevy dealer pulled from inventory looked right, but the inlet pipe was just not the right size. After further discussion and punching some keys on the computer keyboard, the parts manager returned with a unmarked brown cardboard box. Amazingly it was the right filter. Our jaws dropped with excitement, and though it didn’t come with a gasket, nor were they able to find an oil pan, they directed us to a local welder who could fix the puncture and save us hours in the process.
Our morning chores and errands didn’t end with the oil pan and filter. The MAN T-4 support vehicle, which follows the team on the actual Dakar race course had broke a leaf spring the day before. Could we find Paul and the support team new springs? A tall order especially for a vehicle that is manufactured somewhere in Europe.
The SALFA dealer assured us that there was no MAN dealer anywhere in Chile, however they referred us to a guy who repairs and manufacturers leaf springs for locals. As a huge mining community and with the surrounding companies loaded with massive heavy machinery, perhaps the leaf spring legend of Copiapó could help us. His company had no name and the personnel at SALFA didn’t know his address. No problem, they sent one of their employees to ride with us to both the welder and the leaf spring legend of Copiapó. Things were looking up. By 9pm that night we had our oil filter, newly welded oil pan and a pair of leaf springs for the Rally Raid UK MAN T-4. We celebrated at the local restaurant where Cristian had stored his motorcycle.
The next morning Cristian’s motorcycle fired up as nothing had happened. But before we let him get on the road back to Santiago, he helped the team secure local Chilean cell phones, further supplies and a wireless USB internet card for my computer — though since I’ve found it challenging to make