Good News For Race Day 1: Mar del Plata to Bahia Blanca & San Juan

Good news For Race Day 1: Mar del Plata to Bahia Blanca & San Juan

With the streets closed and jammed with thousands of spectators and a giant ramp and video display sitting in the court yard with a grand view of the Atlantic Ocean and Mar del Plata’s legendary beaches, the Dakar 2012 Edition officially begins with a Ceremonial Podium Presentation at the NH Hotel on New Years eve.

The streets rumble as the power of engines revving the the stomping feet, clapping hands, whistling and lots of flag waving as each of the 465 Dakar competitors drive their vehicle in front of the eager fans. With 54 more entrants more than the 2011 Editions, the 2012 Dakar Rally continues to draw more support and visibility each year.

With more than 50 countries represented and the rally broadcast to 79 countries, this year will be the first time the Rally will be televised by a major US television network. Well, sort of. NBC bought Versus, the network that contracted US television rights for Dakar for 2012. Most fans and US-based racers hope that NBC keeps the rally and brings more attention to the sport that Robby Gordon, the NASCAR and Baja champion, calls “the best kept secret in auto racing in the United States.”

After Robb and Ben pleased the crowds with antics of more sticker giveaways, sweetheart kisses and Robb picking Tara up off the ground and into his arms, they parked the Desert Warrior into a secured area called Park Fermé. Once the cars enter this ‘park’ they cannot leave, nor be worked on until after the start of the race on New Years Day.

With plenty of stress and anxiety oozing from the pores and expressions on the faces of Tara and Robb, Paul and the rest of the Rally Raid UK technical support team, who have more than 10 years of Dakar experience, did their best to quell the fear and anxiety. Yet with so much on the line and with so many unanswered questions and a potential logistical quagmire, it seemed that Robb would not get what he needs most to not only start but finish the Dakar: sleep.

With the explosions of fireworks, horns honking and car alarms ringing well into the new year, Robb and Ben managed a few hours of sleep and after a few tweaks and a morning pep talk, launched into the Dakar race at about 9am.

Fans lined the streets in Mar del Plata and well into the outskirts and out onto the campo and pampas of local towns and tiny farm settlements just to see the cars pass. They wave Argentinean flags, urge the racers to honk their horn and push onto the streets with grabbing hands hoping for a t-shirt, hat, sticker or just to touch or get an autograph of a Dakar competitor.

The first stage of the race would last more than 400 miles, but most of this would be ‘transit’ — traveling to the actual race stage and then from the stage to the Bivouac, the traveling nerve center of Dakar rallies. The stage on January 1st was a mix of sand, much along the coast, gravel farm roads and more sand dunes, some 60-80 feet high, or just a tease of what’s to come in Chile later in the week.

Despite some still nagging slipping of the clutch, Robb conservatively took the Desert Warrior through the stage with no complications and often passing more experienced competitors as he put his dune training and the Desert Warrior to test.

At the end of the first day Robb not only completed his first Dakar day, he ranked 75th overall out of the 465 competitors. On the sandy terrain, they had dropped the tire pressure of the Desert Warrior to below 20 psi, but when they tried to use the onboard compressed air, the system failed. And this is the same system that provides air locking differentials for high four-wheel drive. This new problem would have to be sorted before the tough stages set for the next two days. A problem Robb was confident that could be solved between his team and the Rally Raid UK support crew.

When I saw Robb at the Bivouac later that evening, the tension and anxiety had given way to confidence and a feeling of accomplishment — key ingredients required to finish Dakar.

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