Service crews are a vital part of the whole event as the competition lasts for 18 days and covers nearly 7000 miles with almost half of that special stages run at speed. Terrain and weather conditions ranged from short, muddy stages in France and covered with snow covered trails, to long marathon runs over 450 miles in the Sahara Desert in blistering 100 degree weather. According to the regulars, this year's course was the toughest in a decade. The organizers did that in response to complaints that the 2003 course was too easy.

The kick was in the middle of the event when long stages in Mauritania were run back to back. The catch was that the service trucks were not allowed to join the race vehicles in the bivouac each night. Instead competitors had to rely on their own ingenuity and the somewhat limited assistance available from the race trucks, which also had to cover the same stages.

By the end of the longest stage there were literally dozens of stranded cars and trucks scattered across hundreds of miles of desert. Late runners were not getting any sleep and there were reported cases of roaming "security forces" demanding "rewards" in the form of sleeping bags, food, etc. in order to "protect" competitors from "bandits." For safety and security reasons the organizers decided to cancel two stages in Mali so that the stranded competitors could catch up without being penalized for arriving late.

It was on this infamous longest stage on the rally that McRae got stranded after his Nissan truck suffered a broken transmission when he got stuck on a sand dune. McRae and his Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner had to camp under the stars for more than 12 hours while they waited for the race truck to catch up and tow them out of the desert.

Like so many Dakar contestants McRae might have become frustrated, but he was in a remarkably chirpy mood when he reached the rest-day bivouac. "It's a love/hate relationship," he said. These are sentiments echoed by many.