How to survive the Dakar
A beginners guide to spectating at the world's most demanding endurance competition
Posted: 22 Jan 2014
Giovanni is outside my tent: "Okeee, wayke op everrryone!" He's six minutes ahead of schedule. We've had a little over four hours sleep and the Italian is first up. I could be hallucinating of course, it would be forgivable with the fumes. We're embedded with the X-Raid Mini team at the Dakar in Argentina, tents pitched next to the service trucks. Tents aren't much defence against racing trucks arriving back into camp at 2.30am, nor motorbikes leaving at 4.15am, nor indeed the incessant all-night welding and hammering. There's no campsite curfew here.
Our tents are collapsible jobs, and the air mattress, sleeping bag and pillow all stuff into a single bag. Packing up takes less long than walking out of the bivouac. We weren't allowed to park inside the Lago Potrero de los Funes race track near San Luis last night as we didn't have the right passes. This will prove to be a bit of a theme.
Uwe is driving. He's a drive-first-get-directions-later sort of chap. Beyond ‘south', we have no idea where we're going. Our fold-out map shows the whole of Argentina, so we're relying on a Garmin sat nav. As the only man in the car who knows how one of these works, I'm in charge of navigation.
There are no maps on the Garmin. The screen is a grey blank with only the geo co-ordinates showing. Not helpful. We have a multi-lingual conversation. Chiefly English, plus gestures.
The sun arrives out of the dark behind us at a distance of about two metres. It overtakes us. "A Meenee", exclaims Giovanni. In the absence of any better ideas for directions, Uwe gives chase. We're in a suburb of San Luis, doing speeds that you local neighbourhood watch might describe as ‘outrageous'. Here, at 5.30am in the morning, people are already outside their houses watching the race cars leave town. We hit a speedbump. This didn't pose much of a problem to the race Mini, but at 45mph I thought all four wheels had exploded. In the back Giovanni smashes his head against the grabhandle, cutting his scalp. We're not even clear of San Luis and one of us needs medical attention. In this case, a handkerchief.
The race Mini pulls a U-turn ahead of us. While it's good to know even the race teams make mistakes, it's not helping our confidence in finding our way out of this maze, particularly since, after encouragement from us (mainly due to wanting to hand back our Countryman in one piece), Uwe has agreed to slow down. We hit another speedbump. Another Italian scream.
The microSD card had fallen out of the Garmin sat nav. I can see it on the floor between my feet and between flings around roundabouts and pothole ricochets, I manage to grab it and press it back in. We have proper mapping. I pop in our first destination. It's 248km away, pretty much dead straight across a scrubby desert. Not many towns. Nice, fast roads. Uwe gets the hammer down.