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