MCN goes be­hind the scenes to find out what re­ally hap­pens as the world’s tough­est race pre­pares for blast-off

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Jor­don Gibbons IN ASUNCION, PARAGUAY

‘It’s dan­ger­ous. I say a few word to who­ever is watch­ing over me’ SAM SUN­DER­LAND

While most of us are still re­cov­er­ing from ex­ces­sive con­sump­tion of mince pies, over 143 rid­ers ready their bikes and spend two weeks bat­tling one of the tough­est races on Earth: the Dakar Rally. The 2017 run­ning started in Asuncion, Paraguay, on Mon­day, be­fore mak­ing its way to Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina, over 12 gru­elling days and 5878 miles of pun­ish­ing ter­rain – in­clud­ing six days above 3000m on the Bo­li­vian Alto Plano. But be­fore the start, there’s scru­ti­neer­ing and men­tal prepa­ra­tion. Sam Sun­der­land is Bri­tain’s best hope of a top 10 fin­ish. The Dakar stage-win­ner and fac­tory KTM rider said just mo­ments be­fore the start: “Ev­ery­one has their own lit­tle things that they do. I kind of say a few words to who­ever is watch­ing over me. It’s re­ally dan­ger­ous. We’re on our own a lot and we are rac­ing at high speed over new ter­rain we don’t re­ally know. If a rider has a su­per­sti­tion, some­thing that works for them, they should stick to it.”

Fix up, look sharp

Be­fore the race blasts off, there’s scru­ti­neer­ing – where the or­gan­is­ers check the rid­ers’ pa­per­work, as well as all the tech­ni­cal el­e­ments of the bike.

It be­gins with pa­per­work checks and reg­u­la­tion up­dates in the ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tre a few miles away from the tech­ni­cal zone (where the teams set up be­fore the race). This year the or­gan­is­ers have made the nav­i­ga­tion much harder (see sep­a­rate story), and they choose this time to tell the rid­ers, in­sti­gat­ing a mad dash back to the tech­ni­cal zone to up­date their bikes to meet these sur­prise new reg­u­la­tions.

Be­fore the scru­ti­neer­ing in­spec­tion, there is a pre-in­spec­tion which takes place out­side in the blis­ter­ing heat where side­stands sink through melt­ing tar­mac with dis­turb­ing reg­u­lar­ity. Next comes the nav­i­ga­tional checks to en­sure the sys­tem pro­vided by the or­gan­is­ers func­tions cor­rectly and also to check the rid­ers don’t have any GPS sys­tems that they shouldn’t have.

Only once all this is done can they make their way to scru­ti­neer­ing, which takes place in an old air­plane hangar. Here the FIM, who ad­min­is­ter rider safety on be­half of Dakar or­gan­is­ers ASO, check the rid­ers have ev­ery­thing they should have to en­sure a safe race – such as glow­sticks and flares. Once ev­ery­thing has been signed off, the rid­ers fill out lengthy forms while a man riv­ets race num­bers to the rider’s jacket.

Once the bike has passed scru­ti­neer­ing, the rid­ers have just one hour to get the bike from the tech­ni­cal zone to Parc Ferme, where the bikes are stored un­til the start of the race. Once the bike is in Parc Ferme, no al­ter­ations can be made un­til the end of Stage 1, so there’s a lot of look­ing at weather fore­casts and hop­ing that noth­ing changes. The whole process takes about six hours and re­ally takes its toll on the rid­ers, es­pe­cially those who are rid­ing un­sup­ported.

Time to shine

Dur­ing the scru­ti­neer­ing pe­riod the tech­ni­cal zone is a hive of ac­tiv­ity. On one side of a path is the Honda Fac­tory team with the me­chan­ics sip­ping cof­fee while the rid­ers are out test­ing. On the other side is a small Bri­tish team op­er­at­ing out of a van, scram­bling to make last-minute changes.

But de­spite all this, there’s a dis­tinct calm­ness in the air. As the last few rid­ers roll through scru­ti­neer­ing, you can sense that there’s a des­per­a­tion to just get go­ing. There’s 6000 miles of rac­ing out there and the bike won’t ride it­self. Q NEXT WEEK – see how the Dakar Brits are do­ing and fol­low the race at mo­tor­cy­cle­news.com

The rel­a­tive calm be­fore the desert storm...

Sun­der­land’s bike gets a few last­minute tweaks

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