A new feather in his cap for Gerard De Rooy
Regular followers of the truck rally are used to a long wait for the images of the day, to enjoy the twists and turns of the race as well as the swerves and jumps which have become customary for Gerard De Rooy over the last
few years. However, they have been deprived of the Dutchman's verve this year after he withdrew from the Silk Way Rally with a squashed disc in his back. Immediately afterwards, the driver who is seen as the biggest rival to the Kamaz trucks had to undergo medical care for two weeks, before having an operation that left him with a scar along his back longer than 25 centimetres. "Three days afterwards, it wasn't too painful, but I still had to wear a back support for three months and was forbidden from doing any sport at all. Now I'm feeling better, but there was no question of doing the rally in this state. I feel like an old man...". Although he is not on the list of participants, Gerard De Rooy has a new feather in his cap this time round as a team manager, something that happened quite by chance: "Frenchman Jo Adua contacted me to ask if I wanted to rent my truck out to him including the assistance team. Since I had no hope at all of taking part in the Dakar, I accepted his proposal. As a result, I'm travelling in one of the support team cars and we have a truck with four mechanics to look after vehicle No. 507. It's a different way of experiencing the rally and is a lot less stressful. What's more, I've got air conditioning and a radio!"
From Tuscany to Wales, the feminine side of the Dakar
On this Dakar, they are five in number challenging the elements and living out their passion on their bikes. Alongside Annie Seel, Mirjam Pol and Christina Meier, there are two newcomers: Great Britain's Tamsin Jones, and Italian Silvia Giannetti. The former is riding with the Desert Rose team and is handling the race rather well: "I've had a few mechanical problems but yesterday was perfect for me: rain and mud. It was like being at home in Wales". Silvia Giannetti, her long hair blowing in the wind, started riding at the right time, at 12 years old on the racing track circuit. However, since 1999, her major passion is endurance racing and wide open spaces. The high point of her career so far was a rally raid in Tunisia, in 2004, under the supervision of Fabrizio Meoni. "You're managing ok -- you should try rallying", the biker told her. Thereafter, Silvia, a member of the fire brigade in winter and kept busy during the season in Tuscany by her family's newsagents and bar, did not take long to follow her mentor's advice. After a gentle start with the Rally of Sicily in 2005, she rapidly gained significant experience with 24th place in the general standings (and leading woman) on the Rally of Morocco in 2005 and a 28th placed finish (again winning the women's category) on the Pharaoh's Rally that same year. Her ultimate goal was the Dakar, which she only had a sniff of in 2008. In Buenos Aires, on New Year's Day, she admits to having shed tears of emotion at the foot of the Obelisk. As for the Dakar she had learned so much about from Meoni the virtuoso, she finds it, "Bello! Bello!" So much so that it makes her forget the toughness of the race and be, "moved every day by the beauty of the bivouacs and the race".
Chagin: 49 victories and counting!
The Kamaz clan do not do statistics. The 48 special stage victories for Vladimir Chagin seemed to bemuse them on completion of the timed section between Colon and Cordoba. "Where does this figure come from?" one of the blue truck team members was even heard to ask. As regards the five times winner of the event, he simply said: "Well, I'll just try and get to 50". Convinced or not by the closeness of this accomplishment, the Kamaz team leader made a big step towards his fiftieth victory by dominating for the second day running both his rivals (including De Azevedo and the unfortunate Loprais, who left the tracks after 161 km) and his partners, especially current title holder Firdaus Kabirov. In the very closed circle of multiple stage winners, Vladimir Chagin is on the way to joining Ari Vatanen, who boasts 50 victories, and also Stephane Peterhansel with his 51 triumphs (33 on a bike, 18 in a car). During this year's event, the Russian driver could very well become the record holder in all categories for Dakar stage victories, since he has already picked up 7 stage victories on the same rally on two occasions: 2002 and 2006.
Still a long way to go before Turkish delight...
When you see what some competitors go through, you soon realise the Dakar is much more than just a passion for them. As the years pass by, the mishaps pile up. But not enough to stop robust Turk rider Kemal Merkit in his tracks. One year ago at around the same time, he was seen at the end of the second stage pushing his bike through the grassland to reach the finishing line, his face stained with dust and tears. In the end, he managed to reach the overall finishing line of the rally, in 112th place, last but one, by dint of courage and abnegation. One year later, the Turk completed the second day of the Dakar after having believed for a long while that it was to be his last. "What a day! There was a moment when I grabbed my phone and called a travel agent to book my ticket back to Istanbul". The KTM rider had ground to a halt and could not restart his machine, despite the help of the Argentine crowds. "I had a problem with the petrol inlet. We spent an hour checking everything, stripping it down and putting it back together again, but still couldn't find the problem. So then, I just took the cap off my petrol tank, tried to restart the bike and it worked". The Turk rider almost forgot to mention that he then fell into a river and had to strip the bike down again to get rid of all the water. There are still 12 stages left and probably a whole lot more mishaps before he can look back on his 5th participation as a success once again.