My dear diary. I neglected you a bit the last few days, but that was because we were in the Wasteland, then the 850 kilometer crossing, a day off in the middle of every Dakar, which I don’t like, and then two more transfers. And a lot of other things happened in the meantime, so I had to (read: wanted to) write other things.
For example, the Czechs at the Dakar after the first half of the race, how water carriers became the favorites, then the exclusion of Polish competitors with buggies, and finally the organizers mentioned at one of the briefings that today is 38 years since the death of the founder of the competition, Thierry Sabine. So just to explain.
And that day off? I slept part of it, slept part of it and chewed part of it. I do not like him. It all goes off the pace, everyone is fixing. Racers fall out of gear, their mechanics collapse from exhaustion. I get his point, and the endless hot shower stung too, but I don’t like it.
So what happened in those few days? If I didn’t have carefully written notes, it would probably all blend into one big blur. So, step by step…
The toughest Dakar in the last five years
“I have a feeling that the organizers have already recognized it here. The first year it was sewn with a hot needle, then there was the unfortunate covid, but last year they got tougher and this year it is the Dakar, which is hard and difficult, maybe even more than the organizers wanted,” reflects Martin Prokop in the 1000 horses podcast.
It is not only about the forty-eight-hour stage, but also about the character of the individual days, about the intentional exhaustion of the competitors and their accompanying team, about the transfers and eternal packing. This is how it looked when I drove the Africa Eco Race six years ago (by the way, congratulations to Tomáš Tomeček, who won there this year in trucks and drove solo again).
Race kilometers are often at the limit of the range of cars and trucks (the consumption of cars in the dunes is about 130 liters per hundred kilometers, for trucks it is about 200 liters), it starts at dawn and sometimes it is finished in the dark. The routes are difficult for riding and navigation, there is no time to rest somewhere. “Perhaps the stage before the forty-eight-hour one, when it was about five hundred kilometers of movement and then about one hundred and twenty sharp kilometers in the dunes, it was really difficult and perhaps even devastating for the bikers,” says Prokop.
And one more thing about the difficulty. In the first half of the Dakar, the organizer has included one half-marathon stage (with limited service) and then a two-day 48h Chrono, but repeatedly warns that the most difficult stage will be the eleventh stage, i.e. at the very end of the competition. “No one will have anything certain until the last moment,” warns David Castera, director of the Dakar Rally, himself a former competitor.
Traveling in Saudi Arabia is better than in Europe
Yes, I am dead serious about this. The local drivers are miserable, their cars are battered and the road behavior is, to put it mildly, spontaneous, but I don’t even remember when and where I set the cruise control to 140 km/h and drove four hundred kilometers at an average speed of 118 km/h. I got promoted this year and instead of an RV I’m driving a brand new Ford Ranger Raptor and that’s a different song. Its petrol six-cylinder engine is pleasantly dense, the ergonomics are exemplary and, despite the off-road tires, the ride is surprisingly precise and, above all, quiet.
For the first four hundred kilometers in the Wasteland, only cars from the Dakar convoy drove, otherwise there was no one anywhere. We drove mostly on highways, which do not have a center lane or guardrails, and on which it is common for drivers to turn left, drive in the opposite direction, and then drive off into the desert somewhere, but the traffic here is so small that you don’t even notice it. A collision with a camel is a bigger risk. Or you’ll run out of gas, as we almost did, because the pumps are so damn far apart and the Ranger is fast but also thirsty. But who would care if gasoline costs thirteen crowns, right?
Otherwise, the highway asphalt is fine, sometimes you will be surprised by a roundabout or monstrous speed bumps, but otherwise it’s all “cheeky”. And the landscape around is beautiful in its own way, as we drive through the whole of Saudi Arabia, we see plains, endless dunes, the color of which flows from white to all shades of yellow and orange to dense red, but also mountains, which most of all resemble huge piles of stones .
Now we are in the north, in Hail, but compared to last year it is ten degrees higher here and five centimeters less water, so it can be endured. So this evening, when I am writing these lines, it is nine degrees and mostly dry.
It’s a drama – cars are cut in minutes, motorbikes in seconds
For the first two days it looked like the standings would be torn apart like wrapping paper from Christmas presents, but when the first two bikes crossed the finish line yesterday afternoon, the clock stopped with a gap of just one second. Ricky Brabec and Ross Branch then drove through the eighth stage side by side, as if they wanted to watch over each other. The gaps between the other bikers are already bigger, and Michek, for example, in the current tenth place, will rather wait than be able to improve something by his own contribution.
⏱️ Just one second! That’s all that separates leader Ricky Brabec Racing and Ross Branch in the current overall standings before Stage 8. 🤏
🏍 Let the thrilling race continue! 🚀
Posted by Dakar Rally on Sunday, January 14, 2024
Among the cars, fourteen-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel and desert fox Nasser Al-Attiyah dropped out, the competition is continuously led by “El Matadore” Carlos Sainz, but the twenty-five minutes lost by an extremely hungry Sébastien Loeb does not seem like a big drama considering the circumstances. Around the seventh place, where Martin Prokop is right now, it is considerably more dramatic. Here, one defect, one packing or one riding error is enough. Here, the difference is in units of minutes.
And the trucks? Only nine of them finished the forty-eight-hour stage properly, and in reality it is a competition of four machines. To the joy of the Czech fans, Martin Macík rules with a lead of 1.5 hours, Aleš Loprais from third place can still easily attack the second place, but if the technique holds up, then the podium is probably already decided, i.e. at least who will be on it .
And already this year Mrs. Death was in charge…
I’m sitting in the bivouac after finishing the eighth stage and the guys from the editorial office are writing to me if I already know it. I did not know. Here in the bivouac, with no signal, it’s more like silent mail. But it has already arrived officially, a bulletin from the organizers.
There will be a minute’s silence at the briefing. A few people who knew him better will stare blankly for a while or cry a little. And of course the worst will be in Spain at Carles Falcón’s home.
Death is part of the Dakar and everyone is aware of the risk, but no one admits that it could happen to him. So tomorrow morning everyone will line up again for the start of the next stage and race. They will take risks, pull and push. Because everyone here will tell you that the Dakar is not about death. Dakar is about life.