morning and we've just bought petrol from a roadside shack about 100km south of
San Luis. We had to as we're about to roll into the desert and there's no fuel
station for the next 250km. I'm writing this from the back seat of a Mini
Countryman that we've already done over 1000km in since yesterday morning. So
far the Dakar has been eventful, so I thought I'd fill you in on what's
happened so far.
proper entertainment. After scrutineering, something that happens behind closed
doors, all of the 431 competitors were presented to the thick melee of people
that packed into the area around Rosario's Monumento de la Bandera. Each and
every one rode or drove their machine up onto the podium and was interviewed.
If they didn't speak Spanish, their words had to be translated. This took a
while. About seven hours, in fact. The crowds never thinned, and even at 10pm
there were still people up lamp posts and trees.
is the crowd favourite, especially when he hits the ramp at speed in his bright
orange buggy and jumps clean through the podium. Carlos Sainz has the coolest
looking buggy, Race2Recovery the best support truck. One of the cars has what
appears to be a pair of bike wheels strapped to its back deck.
amazing. You know Dakar must be the biggest thing to have happened to Rosario
in the last couple of decades when there are still cheering crowds lining the
motorway 45km outside of town. It felt more like a Papal visit than a motor
race. The race proper didn't start until a few hundred km of road section had
been completed - all of it through hot, hazy, flat and agricultural land. Parallels
with America's mid-west are not misplaced.
stage was little more than a seeding process yesterday, all of the cars just
getting a measure of each other. All the leading contenders came through
unscathed, with six X-Raid Minis in the top ten, plus Sainz and Robbie Gordon.
There were issues for a few - Stephane Peterhansel had a puncture in stage and
there were several reports of cars suffering vapour lock (when the fuel
evaporates before it reaches the injectors) due to the high temperatures. It
was 38 degrees yesterday.
My day wasn't
exactly incident free either. The Mini dealer in Rosario had laid on three
Countrymans to get me and some other international journalists around. One had
colossal bulges in the tyre sidewalls, another a badly slipping clutch. That
was the one that eventually let us down, expiring in a noxious cloud some 230km
from the overnight bivouac at San Luis. We abandoned it and crammed ourselves
into the remaining two after swapping some tyres around. Our very own taste of
was amazing when we got there last night. A mobile encampment of some 1800
people, cars, trucks and bikes being pulled apart, the churn of generators -
work that didn't stop all night. And outside, Argentina was having a party,
crowds of people, fireworks, food stalls. The Dakar is a massive circus.