Day 6: The Desert Warrior lands on its roof

May 5, 2008

 

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Days 5, 6, and 7 are done in the Veszprem area, more or less the same track, each day about 210 km of dirt roads; it is pretty fast going but every once in a while it gets very bumpy, the car gets airborne, and you have to slow down else…. On Day 5 Robby Gordon was doing very well and had a chance of winning the stage but broke his rear wheel bearing due to the bumps and lost a full hour fixing it.

The 6th day starts very well for us, we have more confidence and the events of Day 2 are all but forgotten.  The end is in sight and we are starting to think we might actually finish this race. But only 18 km into the stage Nadav is going quite fast on a hard-surfaced, bumpy track.   He gets into a 90 degree left turn and halfway into the turn we both realize we are too fast.  The deep ruts, left by the cars and trucks over the last three days pretty much dictate the car’s trajectory in the turn.  the Desert Warrior is sliding through the turn with both left wheels in the air… for a split second we think we might pull it off, but… the car rolls over, rather slowly, it seems, on its right hand side, won’t stop because of the momentum, until it ends on its roof, 4 wheels in the air…

We are hung by our harness, feet up, helmets pushed against the roof.  Very odd feeling, the air is filled with debris as if a bomb just went off, you can see some engine oil dripping on the smashed windscreen, but it drips in what seems like gravity deifying direction, from the hood to the roof.  It is all a bit surrealistic and hard to believe that, so close to the finish line, we might have just ended our journey.  

A few seconds to catch our breath, to realize we are both well and unharmed, and now open the latch that holds the harness, drop on your head/helmet, and push through the crashed door out.  

A bunch of spectators who strategically picked this turn help us to our feet.  Important lesson: whenever you see spectator near the track, slow down! they are there for the drama, and we just supplied that to them in spades! 

April 2008 136But they are very helpful and energetic and help us roll the car back to its wheels.  As the rest of the cars and then the truck zoom by, throwing clumps of dirt into the air and almost roll over in the very same turn, we try to put the car back into shape; the air snorkel is completely smashed so I just cut it off and leave it there.  the windscreen is broken but seems to hold together (we put goggles on in case it will break as we drive); duct tape is used liberally on many fiberglass panels, but other than that not much harm done, the engine starts so we are back in the game!

April 2008 140Quite shaken and a bit sore from the accident (mostly where the harness held us) we limp into camp, an hour later than our closets competitors, but still in the race.

 

 

 

April 2008 145The whole crew kicks into action, replacing the windscreen, applying duct tape on each and every panel to hold the car together, refilling a whole bunch of fluids, and, within what seems like just a few minutes, we are ready for the second special of the day.  We are sure to drive much, much slower now.  Our motto from now on: “get home safe with us and the car in one piece”.   Two close calls in one short race is more than enough for first-time amateurs 🙂

And so we make it through the rest of Day 6 and Day 7 without any further drama, and the podium at Lake Balaton is a bit anti-climatic.  Still, we made it through our first rally race!  We are ranked 53 out of 55 cars that finished, and ahead of 39 that didn’t finish. 

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So…, until next time, Arrivederci!

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Nadav resting

 


Day 4: The Rally Heroes

May 3, 2008

 

This was the longest day of the rally, 580 km. After a long liaison we arrive earlier than expected to the start at Dabas, so we have a chance to talk to the top drivers who just start to assemble there.

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Milly, Beady and Nadav chat with Giniel De Villiers, a top VW driver from South Africa who is currently at 2nd place and has a good chance to win.  De Villiers went on to win the first special of Day 4.  See him flying on the course (#203) a few minutes after we talked, and then check out the video at the end of this entry, to see what happened to him the next day…

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De Villiers chats with Nasser Al Attiyah (#205), a really nice fellow and the top BMW driver from Qatar, currently ranked #4.   Al Attiyah will also have a good day, he will win the second special of the day.

 

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Luc Alphand (above, #202) is one of the top Mitsubishi drivers.  He will finish Day 4 ranked #5 overall.  Here, he sticks a snail that he found on the ground to Nasser Al Attiyah’s windscreen… joke not withstanding, Al Attiyah did better than Alphand that day 🙂

April 2008 121 Robby Gordon is yet to win a Dakar, and so far is doing well but not great in this race (will finished the day ranked #4), but he is by far the most popular driver and draws the most attention.  The “Hummer” he drives has huge vertical travel, Robby gets a lot of “air” and the crowed just loves that.   As I mentioned in a prior entry, we owe a lot to Robby’s race support truck team who towed us out of Day 2 special into camp.

While the top drivers get the most attention, to me the real heroes of the rally are definitely the mechanics.  Often times they are volunteers who have to pay their own airfare just to get to the event, they work very late into the night/early morning to put the cars, that the drivers absolutely abuse, back in top shape and in time for the start the next day.  Then they drive all day to get to the next camp, immediately start working on the cars, and seem to never get any sleep.

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Lubo “Turbo” (left) is with Rally Raid UK and works mostly on our car; Turbo came from neighboring Slovenia and happens to speak Hungarian, a great help in this race.  To his right is Pete who works on Paul Green’s car, all night and all day, it seems.

 

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Henky joins Rally Raid UK from Amsterdam.  In “real life” he is a mechanic for Ford in the Netherlands. He worked on the Desert Warrior in Dakar and other races.  Henky works mostly on our car.  Without Henky and Turbo’s effort there is no way we could have finished this race.  Thanks a lot, guys!!!

As promised, here is a video from Day 5.  Watch (1:25 into the segment) what happens to Giniel De Villiers who until that point was ranked #3 in the race, just 2:56 minutes behind the leader:


Day 2: the Desert Worrier went for a swim

May 2, 2008

 

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After a long night drive and a border crossing to Romania we end up at the town of Baia Mare.

Beautiful sunny weather, the competitors are more relaxed and are ready for the second day of about 140 km specials in the hills above Baia Mare. 

 

April 2008 048Here are some of the Rally Raid UK team members relaxing before the start (from left): Milly Jones (who is co-pilot for her husband Beady Jones), Paul Green who drives car #240, Mark Eland his co-pilot, and Chris Hammond who is co-pilot for Ian Rochelle.

 

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As we are waiting for the special to start, Nadav is chatting with a Romanian farmer; Nadav speaks Italian, and apparently Italian and Romanian are quite similar; clue: this will prove extremely important as the day progresses..

 

We kick off and are immediately launched into a mountainous terrain with narrow twisty dirt roads, mostly logging trails, barely the width of a car; it rained last night so the route is muddy, slippery, with quite a lot of snow on the sides; the ground is rocky and the inclines and declines are very steep; the Dessert Warrior is not built for this kind of terrain, but we are having a lot of fun and slowly gaining confidence.  A few cars pass us but then we are able to overtake a couple of others; there are already quite a few cars overturned by the roadside but we pay no attention and plow forward.

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After about 40 km I find myself going a bit too fast on a narrow flat track with a river in a deep ravine running alongside. The car jumps with all 4 wheels in the air, lands a bit diagonally to the track, loses traction, spins, and stops on river the bank.  The car is barely balanced, undecided whether it wants to stay on the track or fall 18 feet into the ravine, but the rear wheels still have some traction.

While we are scrambling out of the cabin and trying to think what to do, one of the competitors stops by and offers to pull us out of this risky situation with a towing rope.   Bad decision… our car is perpendicular to the track, the other car has to stay on the track and pull along the track… had I paid more attention in physics 101 I could have guessed what’s next… before we know it, our car loses the little traction it still had, and plunged into the river head first….

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By some miracle is stays vertical and doesn’t flip into the water… no way we can pull it out now.  Hours pass by, and even Michel who drives our race support truck cannot offer much help given the narrow track.  The last cars and trucks of the race pass by, and we are on our own, alone, in the middle of the Romanian forest.  What to do?

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We vaguely recall seeing some sort of a camp with workers up stream where we came from.  Nadav volunteers to go talk to them.  I am skeptical, this is a pretty problematic situation, probably needs some heavy machinery, not to mention the language barrier..   However, within an hour he returns victorious, with a bunch of Romanian loggers.  Remember the old lady at the start of the day? Since Italian and Romanian are quite close, Nadav is able to explain to them our predicament, and they just happen to have a logging tractor.  It is ancient but perfect for the job; before we know it they place it on the track above our poor car, hook up two winches for balance, and… we our out of the water and back in business! 

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The car won’t start (the battery was damaged in the fall) but other than that all systems seem functional.  Luckily, Robby Gordon’s race support truck is still behind us, and the guys agree to tow us back to camp.  Our crew replaces the battery, refills a little bit of engine oil and we are ready to go!

What a day!  We had more luck than smarts, and many other competitors had to give up that day.  Watch the day’s video, and if you pay close attention towards the end of the segment you will see us with the desert warrior that went for a swim…