2016 RDC Dakar Workflow
To cover Dakar is somewhat similar to what photographers and journalists are accustomed to in Baja. Race cars go by at a high rate of speed and one snaps away and writes about it afterwards. Then on the other hand it’s a completely different animal. There are the obvious differences such as the event is multiple days long, 14 days to be exact and each day rivals a Baja 500 in its complexity and length.
Accredited press pays an entry fee of €3,200 (approximately $3,500) per person. The registration deadline this year was on November 30th. There are 3 press categories one may participate in. Press plane where A.S.O. flies you from bivouac to bivouac on their schedule with very limited luggage constraints, and two vehicle types that let you follow the race via the assigned assistance roads or follow using the race course. The race course media vehicle requires FIA roll cage, seats, seatbelts and some other basic safety equipment. In both cases whether you chose the assistance road or the race course route the vehicles needs to be 4wd and pass a simple tech inspection. A.S.O.’s livery is compulsory and this year we got number 1058 assigned on our assistance route only vehicle. Assuming a 2017 coverage we will perform the necessary upgrades for course access.
Unlike your typical BITD or SCORE race the course is unknown to competitors and the press until you actually start your daily journey. While the road book gets handed out the night before each stage, unless you see things with your own eyes we have to guess where the good photo spots are. One could start the course the night before the race but that turns into a photo crew only without the journalistic aspect. We try to get photos and stories and therefore have to plan our days carefully.
We look at scheduled start times and estimated finish times and then calculate how long it would take us to get to potential photo spots on the course. The course that is unknown to all participants including us and hence we had days that we arrive at a point to find that its photographically of low value or have missed the leaders by minutes.
In our case the Tripy device dictates every turn we are supposed to take, keyword is supposed as we constantly seek optional ways to find the course for photos. We do this by looking at A.S.O. assigned spectator spots on the website assuming internet works, or photo spots in the form of GPS waypoints we are given the previous night, or by talking to navigators that are in a similar situation studying maps and making educated guesses. We also look for dust trails in the air and we also talk to local fans or often simply rely on intuition and pure luck.
Every evening we have a small staff meeting where we look over our bible (route handbook) that contains the daily stage start time, lengths of specials/liaisons and length of assistance routes. We then reference things to google earth assuming we have decent internet and come up with a plan that calls for our wheels up times as early as 06:00h. One also has to check the racers competitor bulletin board in the event of last minute changes to the next days route.
Then every team member has his own wake up regiment, your actual get out of the sleeping bag time varies. Some of us enjoy an early coffee and breakfast while others rather sleep the extra 10 minutes. We try to stay in hotels if possible but 80% of our nights are spent in personal tents somewhere in the bivouac; hopefully not too close to insects, generators, lights or other sleep interrupters. If you use ear plugs you may miss the alarm sound that every so often interrupts that nice deep sleep dream.
The A.S.O provides a shower facility every day, but jail house group showers in cold water is not for everyone and consequently it’s a quick “man shower” of squirting a tad of water from a drinking bottle over your torso before the daily t-shirt change. Those nasty 1-3 day old shirts then make for nice souvenirs for the local fans. They love it.
Our diet also suffers and often despite best efforts its gas-station sandwiches or whatever left overs are in the ice chest from the previous days. ASO provides 3 meals a day in the bivouac but one has to be present to receive it and we are typically on the road all day. After a few days the provided bivouac meals becomes repetitive to put it gently but we are not attending Dakar for its fine French cuisine even though a decent glass of red wine is part of the bivouac dinner.
Once we are on the road and get good photos or race information in the can getting that content out to RDC is a challenge of its own. We try to process images in the car (In-Da-Kar) while on the move. We use two different Argentinian cellular air cards plus our t-mobile iphone as a modem to upload content. When in zero phone service territory a 2-way SMS device lets us send quick updates. Many gas stations in Argentina and Bolivia offer free wifi access at various speeds and that comes in handy as well but it grounds us while transferring data and hence slows down the workflow.
For our daily stories we start early while still driving to the daily bivouac with a first draft that may just contain a few random thoughts we gathered during the day. We then check in with certain teams of interest to get direct quotes, some photos and hear the battle stories of the day. Each bivouac is laid out differently so getting around is a daily new challenge. Sometimes we drive around those large compounds for comfort against the elements while on other days its better to walk because roads are so tight and parking becomes an issue. The press center later at night provides us with Press releases, racers quotes, results and much needed internet. That internet access has to be pre purchased at a whopping €2,000.00($2182.50) for 2GB and often the press center shuts down as early as 21h for the night.
Towards the end of our workday we setup our tents and if not too tired perhaps a facetime or phone call to loved ones and friends back at home is in order before sleep. This routine repeats daily and we constantly seek for ways to improve the workflow. Its hard to describe in words what it takes to stay focused and deliver desired results and this article doesn’t do it full justice. For this year just like last year we put together a well functioning team. One has to attend this event to fully appreciate what efforts go into being part of the worlds largest off-road race. I am honored and extremely proud to follow my childhood dream of being part of Dakar. We hope that our coverage this year adds to the Dakar experience back home.
The Vehicle used – Toyota 4Runner
Tripy Device used – Tripy