Dakar Rally : Team Dessoude - Leg 1
The organisers of the 29th edition of the Dakar had warned the competitors that the first leg would hold… the first surprises. This European timed stage, was to give a taste of Africa, as it mainly consisted of sandy terrain, over a 117
km special stage, in the heart of Portugal. Pine forests and corn-oak completed the scenery. Over this terrain, rather surprising for a warm-up, most of the Team Dessoude teams completed the « mission » they had been assigned. Yvan Muller and Christian Lavieille were 11th and 12th respectively, while in T2, Jean Pierre Strugo and Paul Belmondo s et the 3rd and 4th fastest times.
Among the Dessoude Proto vehicles, Yvan Muller and Miguel Barbosa had rather different days. The driver from the Alsace region of France, with René Metge as a navigator, set the 11th fastest time. Quite a respectable start for a rookie : « This first stage was quite surprising, very narrow and sandy at both the start and the finish…. As well as the terrain, the thing that surprised me most was the number of spectators who lined the route. A huge crowd of people. We could only see the route ahead when the spectators moved away to let us through. It was quite dangerous, but we're in Portugal, and the word ‘fan' really means something here. I had a first warning when, in a corner, we started to slide, and almost spun, which left us heading towards a tree. I quickly got the mess age : when visibility is poor, it's a good idea to slow down …»
A smiling René Metge seemed satisfied with the start of the race : « Everything is going well… but I'm deaf ! The car is very noisy, even with our helmets on. We had a few problems communicating, so we're using sign language. Yvan was quickly on the pace, and he is listening to me… He was slightly caught out by a low-visibility corner, in the mud. We lost around a minute before we got going again. I've never seen sand like that, despite having seen quite a lot of sand in my life ! Soft, extremely soft. Worse than fech-fech ! W e'll see how tomorrow goes… »
The second Dessoude Proto, in the hands of Miguel Barbosa, had a few problems.
Very disappointed with 27th position, the young Portuguese driver explained his misadventures : « It was a bad day. The start had been quite promising. We were on the pace, but after around 30 km, we had a puncture. Then our engine started to give us some worries, due, apparently, to electrical problems. We had to slow down in order to get to the finish. I would have preferred to be in a better starting position for tomorrow's stage, as it will not be easy to overtake. But I'll do all I can to start the African legs in a better position...»
Christian Lavieille worked hard with his Nissan Pickup 03, and finished 12th overall : « This first special stage was tricky and slippery, without mentioning the extremely soft sand… I think that with this first stage, the organizers were really pitiless on all the newcomers. The route quickly became rutted, and I imagine that behind us, some people must have run into their first problems. As for us, we took things quite carefully. We have to learn all about this car during the race, as our only experience with it was a test day at Château Lastours. Our only problems were a few minor worries with the fuel pump, and perhaps slightly too much pressure in the tyres … »
François Borsotto also found that this first day was quite tough : « We didn't push on this extremely tricky terrain, but I can't imagine what it must have been like for the rookies… »
In the T1 category, Madalena Antas really had a dreadful time. Soon reduced to two-wheel drive, the young Portuguese driver fought relentlessly to get through the day.
The T2 field …
In the Production category, the Team Dessoude Nissan Pathfinder vehicles took things carefully today. Jean-Pierre Strugo was 3rd in the category (and 49th overall), closely followed by his team-mate Paul Belmondo : « My first impressions were favourable. With so much sand today, we had a first taste of what awaits us in Africa. The Nissan Pathfinder behaves as I expected. We had the right tyres, with the right pressure. We are exactly where we hoped to be according to the race plan we had drawn up. Looking closely at the classification, you can see that this evening, the T2 places are just as they were in the final result of the 2006 Dakar…»
For Paul Belmondo, the day went perfectly, with ‘prudence' being the watchword : « I didn't want to risk getting a puncture by reducing the tyre pressures too much. We drove calmly, and set a good pace without pushing too hard. I was very cautious in the ruts, where a mistake could have heavy consequences. With the ruts and the trees, there was more to lose than to gain in this stage … »
The team's third T2 car is the Nissan Pathfinder driven by Carole Montillet and Mélanie Suchet. Our two champions came through their first cross-country rally stage without problems. This evening, they were very proud to have set the 91st fastest time! « Before setting off, we were slightly apprehensive. The track was very rough, and the tight corners had turned into giant ruts. Although we didn't take any risks, it was an excellent feeling. We drove at our pace, according to our experience and our knowledge of the vehicle. On the liaison section to Portimao we even played St Bernard and helped another competitor….»
Tomorrow, between Portimao and Malaga, a 67 km special stage is on the menu, following a rather different route, more like a WRC stage… beware of the corners !