As the dust settles at the 2016 Dakar Rally, the RDC team has taken a moment to reflect on the race this year and our experiences. While there have been an overwhelming number of unforgettable moments, there are still some that we wish we could forget. On that note, here are our five favorite, and least favorite, memories from the 2016 Dakar Rally.
The Lion Roars- Everyone knew that the Peugeot team would be stronger this year. They had totally redesigned their vehicles and added Sebastien Loeb to their driving lineup. Still, I was not prepared for them to completely dominate the first half of the rally. Everything about the Peugeot team was beyond what any other team at the rally was doing, from their fleet of support vehicles to tables full of engineers analyzing data each night. This is the new Dakar super team, so long X-Raid.
Rally Invasion- Sebastien Loeb was not the only rally driver to make his debut at Dakar this year. Mikko Hirvonen came in fourth at Dakar and Harry Hunt came in 10th place. Carlos Sainz has a famous rally past, and many other top drivers like Nasser Al-Attiyah, Yazeed Al-Rajhi or Martin Prokop are regulars on the rally circuit. It is clear that rally skills translate over to rally raid, particularly with the course used this year.
Bolivia- Last year was the first time that Bolivia hosted the Dakar Rally, and they just got a taste with a single stage of the rally. This year Bolivia’s commitment was a little greater, although Argentina still hosted the lion’s share of the race. Support crews took a different route to Uyuni than the race vehicles, spending the night in Tarija. Despite this, the support crews were greeted by streets full of cheering fans, waving flags. The next day as we passed through Potosina, there was a metal band playing Black Sabbath covers for a bunch of dancing tigers. And I saw all of this before I even chewed any coca leaves!
T4 Trucks- These giant racing garbage trucks are one of my favorite aspects of Dakar. I love the history of support trucks that started racing against each other and spawned an entirely new class. They use leaf springs and solid axles and the driver sits right over the front axle. There is no way these things should work as good as they do. My favorite is when their starting position is mixed with the cars, which allows for a true comparison of speeds.
Fiambala- These dunes used to be the gatekeeper for the Dakar Rally on its way to Chile. This year they were the only dunes that were used, and they are where the race was decided. While not as exciting as the famous decent into Iquique, if your team has a weakness, whether it be the vehicle, the driver, or navigation, these dunes will expose it to the world.
Peru’s Departure- First Chile pulled out of the Dakar Rally due to natural disasters, taking the famed Atacama Desert out of the equation. ASO had enough time to prepare for this though and created a route that started in Lima, Peru and went through Bolivia on its way to Argentina. Then in September, Peru pulled out of the race suddenly, citing El Nino as the reason. ASO scrambled to come up with a new route, and it showed.
The Course- This year had three loops that started and ended in the same location to add mileage. Many of the stages also consisted of dirt roads with little navigation challenge, a far cry from Dakar’s roots. The bikes experienced two marathon stages and the cars one; an indication that the ASO knew how easy the race was this year and were attempting to add difficulty. Argentina is a country full of enthusiastic fans and beautiful scenery, but it is the harshness of the Atacama desert and the altitude of the Bolivian salt flats that really make the race.
The Rain- Don’t you hate it when someone is right and they rub your nose in it? This is basically what happened with Peru and Mother Nature. Cancelled stages and shortened stages were commonplace at this edition of the Dakar Rally. Support crews in Jujuy had to work in inches of standing rain, in addition to the rain that was pouring down. We set up our tents under the slide-out on Robby Gordon’s Freightliner when rain threatened. And on the 1200 km drive back from Bolivia we had to sleep in the car after a bridge flooded and was unsafe to cross. No one to blame for that, but I don’t have to like it either.
French Connection- “They give the nightly driver’s meeting in French,” Kellon Walch explained. “It takes about ten minutes to give, and then in English there is a one minute summary where they tell us to be safe out there.” From Stephane Peterhansel’s refueling scandal to Sheldon Creed’s disqualification, there is definitely a language barrier with the ASO. We saw this on the media side as well, as it was often difficult to get the information we needed to do our jobs in an efficient manner.
Details- There were some things that were only disappointing if you know how they had been handling in the past. Details like the length of each liaison before and after the special stage, not just the total liaison length. Or a legend that listed the type of terrain found on each special stage. The food in the bivouac this year was notable bad this year as well. In the past the food has definitely had a French influence and been one of the highlights in a harsh environment.