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  • Man Versus Nature: 2010 Dakar Rally Support

Man Versus Nature: 2010 Dakar Rally Support

4,500 Miles In 17 Days: Part 2

Harry Wagner
Aug 1, 2010
Photographers: Harry Wagner
Editor's Note: Last month we introduced you to a group of American journalists who traveled 1,971 miles across South America in a MAN truck to cover the Dakar Rally. This month we catch up with the team in the resort town of Iquique, Chile, to bring you the remainder of the race action. If you missed last month's article, go to www.dieselpowermag.com to get up to speed.
Photo 2/13   |   dakar Rally Support Truck helicopter
Day 9, Iquique to Antofagasta (235 Miles Today, 2,206 Total)
The rest day in Iquique was definitely appreciated, and we took the opportunity to do laundry, clean camera gear, and take our first hot shower in a week. Our MAN truck had a shower, but the heat exchanger wasn't working properly, and we had a limited amount of water on the truck. The race officially stopped for the night in Antofagasta, Chile, but we found Iquique to be much more inviting. The only problem with staying in Iquique was that it put us 200 miles behind the rest of the race vehicles-and we had to catch back up.
Photo 3/13   |   dakar Rally Support Truck MAN Truck
The race teams appreciated the rest day as well, although for different reasons. Many of the temporary fixes that had been made in the bivouac during the previous week of racing were properly repaired on the rest day. In other words, the mechanics and support crew did not get much rest on what was intended to be a day off.
Photo 4/13   |   Helicopters (opposite page, top) offered an audible clue when the Dakar race leaders were approaching. This Nissan team was running in the top 10 until a broken rear pinion gear ended their hopes for Dakar victory. While the bulk of the miles we covered were on the pavement, the T4 race trucks (opposite page, bottom) were equally at home in the dirt. The giant hand (above) was plunging out of the ground in the middle of the desert. Consider that our MAN truck is more than 12 feet tall to get an idea of the scale of the hand. When you spend this long on the road you are bound to see strange and unusual sights.
Day 10, Antofagasta to Copiapo (357 Miles Today, 2,563 Total)
From Antofagasta we backtracked south to Copiapo along the Pacific coast. We were battling a headwind the whole way, which caused our 8-mpg average to drop to 6 mpg for that part of the trip. During this leg we had to traverse down a 12 percent grade that plunged 3,500 feet down to the ocean and left the brakes on the MAN truck glowing red hot. The racecourse ended right at the bivouac and we arrived just in time to see the leaders come diving down the dunes with a helicopter following-just a few feet off the ground. Stephen Peterhansel won the stage in his diesel-powered BMW X-Raid, but the Volkswagen Touaregs were slowly tightening their stranglehold on the overall victory with another strong showing from Sainz, Al-Attiyah, and Miller.
Day 11, Copiapo to La Serena (220 Miles Today, 2,783 Total)
We had a relatively short drive today, which was fortunate since our MAN truck was having mechanical issues. Darren Skilton, our pilot for the rally and owner of the MAN L90 we got to ride in, noted that our rig was getting very hot as we climbed a steep grade out of Copiapo. We returned to town where Darren had the oil and fuel filters changed and the coolant flushed. The coolant level was alarmingly low.
Photo 5/13   |   American B.J. Baldwin was a last minute entry for Nascar racers Robby Gordon's Team Dakar USA. Baldwin put his Trophy Truck driving skills to use to finish 20th overall in his first Dakar effort.
After a late start, we stopped in the town of Vallenar for dinner. As we continued south down the coast, we noticed that vegetation and fresh water were starting to appear with more regularity. As the landscape became more hospitable, the people seemed to do the same.
Day 12, La Serena to Santiago (326 Miles Today, 3,109 Total)
The Dakar lunch menu was like Groundhog Day. We had been eating the following every day for nearly two weeks straight:
French cuisine
(canned meat and some vegetables)
Granola bar
Fruit cup
Wafer cookie (smashed to bits)
Photo 6/13   |   When our MAN truck began lumbering and straining, the first thing Skilton checked was the air filter. The huge filters on these trucks are designed to run in the desert for thousands of miles, and our journey across the Andes didn't seem to have any negative effect on the system.
Most of us managed to make the whole trip without any French cuisine touching our lips. We supplemented the meals with beef jerky and Power Bars that we brought from the United States.
When we got into the bivouac, the MAN support crew replaced the priming pump on our truck and flushed the lines to the injectors to cure a hard-starting problem we were having when the truck sat overnight. We didn't have any more issues after the repairs. Every year MAN sends a fully stocked vehicle and factory service technicians to the rally to assist all the teams that use its vehicles. How is that for service?
Day 13, Santiago to Mendoza (286 Miles Today, 3,395 Total)
Today we crossed back over the Andes and returned to Argentina. The sinewy road climbed from sea level to 13,000 feet in a matter of miles. Unlike the desolate northern pass that we took into Chile, the return route was filled with ski resorts and glacier-fed streams. The special stage for the day began in Argentina and marked a return to fast gravel roads instead of the endless sand of Chile and the Atacama desert.
Photo 7/13   |   From Santiago we crossed over the Andes into Argentina once again. At 14,000 feet there was hardly any vegetation but, during winter, this area is home to some of the best snow skiing in the world.
The race continued on to San Juan, but we "broke down" in Mendoza. Mendoza is home to more than 35,000 wineries. Due to our non-disclosure pact with the rest of the American journalists, that is all we can legally say...
Day 14, Mendoza to San Rafael (255 Miles Today, 3,650 Total)
The racecourse double-backed from San Juan to San Rafael, so we saved some miles by staying in Mendoza. When we got to the finish line for the stage, it was a madhouse! It was estimated that more than 10,000 people showed up at the finish line-many camping out the night prior to the race to get a good view. The crowds were so thick that the race organizers were concerned about safety and ended the special stage a few kilometers early. The cars still drove through the crowds, though (albeit at a reduced pace); canceling the section would have likely resulted in bloodshed.
Photo 8/13   |   The Dakar Rally is dominated by French and Germans, with Argentines and Chileans making a sizable contribution since the rally moved to South America. We were fairly lonely flying the Stars and Stripes.
After the race was completed, we continued on to San Rafael. The road was lined for miles with even more people waving and cheering. At one point we stopped and threw pens out to the crowd and almost started a riot! After signing a few autographs and posing for cell phone photos with babies (seriously), we were back on the road. MAN trucks are apparently bigger than The Beatles in Mendoza.
Day 15, San Rafael to Nueva Ilata (217 Miles Today, 3,867 Total)
The short liaison drive before the special stage allowed us to camp out in the gray sand dunes of Argentina-the last dunes we saw on the rally. This treacherous section wreaked havoc in 2009 when Nasser Al-Attiyah got lost in the dunes and Carlos Sainz drove off a cliff into a ravine. The two front-runners were hoping their luck would be better in 2010.
Photo 9/13   |   Volkswagen's presence at the rally was huge, and not just with its race Touaregs. VW had 35 of its new diesel-powered Amarok pickups on hand to transport media, special guests, and support crew from bivouac to bivouac.
At first light, the bikes came by with the fatigued riders basically on autopilot after two weeks of nonstop torture. After that came the cars, led by the Volkswagens, then the rest of the field. The huge diesel T4 and T5 trucks brought up the rear, although they caught many of the slower cars in the huge, loose dunes. Camping out on the course and watching the mayhem unfold was the highlight of the trip for us.
Day 16, Nueva Ilata to Buenos Aires (273 Miles Today, 4,140 Total)
After more than two weeks on the road and more than 4,000 miles, we were headed back to the comfortable beds and hot showers of Buenos Aires. Crowds that were even larger than those that saw us off two weeks earlier met us upon our return. Along the way, we got lost in the sprawling suburbs of Buenos Aires in the MAN truck, only to join the Volkswagen convoy as it paraded into town to celebrate its history-making effort that saw the manufacturer take all three podium positions. Not to be overshadowed, American Robby Gordon delighted the fans with smoky burnouts and doughnuts before jumping into an airplane to head to SCORE International's first desert race of the season in Laughlin, Nevada.
Photo 10/13   |   Returning to Buenos Aires meant the streets were thick with screaming fans. Tollbooths were particularly packed since all the race vehicles had to come to a stop in order to pay their toll. Yes, even race cars had to carry exact change.
Day 17, Buenos Aires (Time to Head Home)
Thousands gathered to see Carlos Sainz crowned the victor of the 2010 Dakar Rally and Skilton took the MAN truck to the port for its long journey back to France. As our sunburns and bug bites faded into the past, we began to comprehend the full magnitude of what we had been a part of. We could not decide if the time went by quickly, or if every sleep-deprived mile sitting in that race seat lasted an eternity. Even though we did not race the event, just surviving the forced march that is the Dakar Rally gave us a taste of what the competitors must endure. It is an opportunity that we will gladly repeat if we get the chance. It doesn't even have to be in a MAN truck, but with hundreds of miles of driving each day and 15,000-foot passes to cross, it most certainly better be in a turbodiesel.