London to Dakar 2005
MORE MAGAZINE COVERAGE:
Have you seen Land Rover Monthly (silver pick up on a blue cover doing a wheelie), also mentioned on the cover of the July Edition is the last World Cup Rally…. inside are three pages of action from our last epic, with pictures of Sheila Wright, Richard Walker, Ken Lugg, David Palmer having fun in the Sahara…. why are they coming to Dakar? Get a copy of the magazine to see how these 4×4 enthusiasts enjoy the the World Cup Rally.
ALSO: – In the May 2004 edition of Land Rover Owner International you can and read about David & Jacqui Palmer’s adventures in Tunisia with their Land Rover Defender last year.
This is 20 days of driving into the great unknown. We drive away cheered on by Lord Nelson who still bears the reminder of having received a poke in the eye from the French, to drive down to Parliament Square and onto the Dover Road. We drive France and Spain as a touring route – Africa is plenty tough enough without us manufacturing anything artificial before we cross to Tangiers.
In Morocco, we drive some of the routes of the early Dakars. Into Mauritania, we are now in the most empty and least populated country in the whole of Africa. It’s vast – bigger than France and Spain put together, the total population is less than Bristol. Enthusiastic children will cheer you on your way but don’t expect big crowds – this country has never seen a crowd. We camp for two nights out in the Sahara, the stars are so vividly clear you could pluck them, and meteorites and even satellites can be seen clearly through tired eyes.
It’s man and machine up against the elements – we are not seeking out in-land routes with giant sand-dunes as “stoppers” – it’s just practical for a well-prepared two-wheel drive Historic car driven with care and determination, but will be an enormous and memorable challenge.
This will appeal to those who can swap the rut of normal living for the ruts of the greatest wilderness on earth, and join in the camaraderie of taking on a marathon drive with other like-minded enthusiasts.
The route will include a number of difficult roads, and good ground clearance (you can never have enough of that commodity), and careful preparation will be essential ingredients for success.
Entrants should accept that this is not intended as a gentle tour and cannot be without risks, careful research of the countries and the route is strongly advised (some of the backpackers paperback books, such as the Lonely Planet book of Mauritania, make for interesting background reading).
|Day 1||Jan 9||Sun||London to France|
|Day 2||Jan 10||Mon||France to Spain|
|Day 3||Jan 11||Tues||Spain to Tangiers|
|Day 4||Jan 12||Weds||Tangiers to Fes|
|Day 5||Jan 13||Thurs||Fes to Midelt|
|Day 6||Jan 14||Fr||Midelt to Erfoud|
|Day 7||Jan 15||Sat||Erfoud to Zagora|
|Day 8||Jan 16||Sun||Zagora to Ouarzazate|
|Day 9||Jan 17||Mon||Ouarzazate to Marrakech|
|Day 10||Jan 18||Tues||Marrakech Rest Day|
|Day 11||Jan 19||Weds||Marrakech to Agadir|
|Day 12||Jan 20||Thurs||Agadir to Laayoune|
|Day 13||Jan 21||Fri||Laayoune to Dakhla|
|Day 14||Jan 22||Sat||Dakhla to Nouadhibou|
|Day 15||Jan 23||Sun||Nouadhibou to Cap Tafarit (Camp)|
|Day 16||Jan 24||Mon||Cap Tafarit (Camp) to Nouakchott|
|Day 17||Jan 25||Tues||Nouakchott Rest Day|
|Day 18||Jan 26||Weds||Nouakchott to St Louis|
|Day 19||Jan 27||Thurs||St Louis to Dakar|
As we leave the hustle and bustle of Tangiers behind us, the long run from the UK, through France to Bordeaux, and to just South of Madrid the following day, was already in the dim and distant past.
The ferry crossing to Africa, carried a full quota of rally cars that even included the troubled Ford Focus of Felix Wright and John Hall. On the way to the start at Brooklands their Focus threw a wobbler that culminated in a frantic trip back home, a complete overnight engine rebuild, and an heroic non-stop drive across Europe to catch the ferry before it set sail.
The road south to Fez immediately caused general surprise by including several hairpin bends covered in ice! If you had not already been caught out by the freezing conditions the sight of a jack-knifed truck blocking one particular corner was warning enough to encourage caution in the shadows. The frost had cleared by the time we turned off the tarmac onto the long and rough gravel road leading us to the eagerly awaited first test section. The pre-test road alone was tricky enough to catch out the hapless Tim James and Gary Salter who managed to slip off the road in their Land Rover Discovery before reaching the test start. Only pride was hurt badly however and the Organisers service crews had them ‘right way up’ and on the way to the hotel before sunset – albeit without a windscreen and without the front wheels pointing in exactly the right direction.
In the meantime the competitors enjoyed a twisting forest track that loosened up the veterans and initiated the novices without much incident. Most competitors ran this first one cautiously and were clearly very aware of the long distance that lay ahead to Dakar. Despite this, Classic Category runners, Iain Freestone and Rod Maclean put in a storming fastest time in their Mk1 Escort. Alastair Caldwell and Brian Johnson, in the World Cup Hatchback Category, immediately rose to the occasion and staggered some of the more powerful classics with the second best time in a Peugeot 205 Rallye. David Williams and Keith Whyman surprised nobody in their monster truck by becoming fastest 4×4 Category runner. Their Dodge Ram took off up the gravel hillside like a rocket but the huge pick up, complete with chrome wheels, must surely have been quite a handful on the twisty bits?
Last years World Cup winners, Nicky Porter and Malcolm Sinclair, started in a calculated and mature way placing the well proven Mitsubishi Space Star at a modest 7th by, presumably, using the same successful and drama free tactics of last year.
Another frosty start, this time out of Fez, left the James/Salter Discovery behind to make vital repairs to thier bent front suspension.
This day saw the most fabulous and diverse selection of landscapes that anybody could wish to experience in a single day. Even before the sunshine warmed us up enough to remove our fleeces we had passed through typical Moroccan villages set in stunning gorges and dramatic hillsides, rocky barren desert-scapes, and onto the first test of the day starting by a lake that wouldn’t look out of place in the Alps! The test was smooth tarmac that wound its way around the edge of the lake and climbed to the top of the mountain. Angus Stamper and Mark L’Anson in a BDA powered Escort won this one with an impressive 18 second advantage over yesterdays fastest Escort but did end up leaving the uphill finish line gasping for mercy as its peaky Twin Cam motor struggled with a ridiculously high first gear ratio…fingers crossed for them when the going gets sandy in the creek beds! Fastest Land Rover so far, Geoff and Elisabeth Johnston, made it speedily to the top but suffered a slipping clutch near the finish.
Meanwhile Kevin Anderson and Paul Emmerson in a Peugeot 106 Rallye were ‘doing the gardening’ several bends back down the hill and couldn’t get back on the tarmac without the assistance of a tug from the service crews. That leaves them behind the 106 XR of retired schoolteachers Sue Howell and Molly Falcon who are, as usual, having a wonderful time.
The second test of the day was hailed as a superb piece of beautifully graded gravel track and, fortunately for us, was not due to be metalled until later this week! The track was dutifully exploited and Iain Freestone and Rod Maclean showed just what Escorts were made for with yet another fastest time. Jim Smith and Peter Stone also flew up this one in the Astra Sport but after quickly coming to the boil are now suffering blown shock absorbers having followed the unusual advice to retain standard units. Main disappointment here was for Reena Pastakia and Steve Rutherford in a VW Polo who slipped off the track and knocked the rear suspension out of line resulting in a day away from the action while until proper repairs are made.
The run into our night halt at Midelt continued to delight with some twisty roads so narrow that the Dodge Ram must have had a wheel off the tarmac….both sides, to a mountain pass that surreally had thick snow on one side and bare rocky desert on the other. With the hot sun beating through the windscreens, and prompting those with air-conditioning to switch it on, it was most unusual to then find yourself driving through the villages under friendly siege from children with snowballs. With the last variation of landscape being a dead straight and endless run between a pair of distant mountain ranges, the first-timers to Morocco are already convinced by the beauty on offer.
Out of the dusty little town of Midelt we soon reach the first gravel test, still aided by helpful and smiling policeman at many of the junctions.
Unfortunately before reaching the test Alison Cotes was forced to fight her, and husband Peters, Lotus Elan to a halt after watching a rear wheel shear off at the stub axle and bound away far into the desert. The car was bought to a dramatic halt without excess damage and this well-travelled little car will surely rejoin us shortly. Both tests today totalled 80Km of tough, rough gravel with dips and rocky creek beds to keep the crews on their toes. Mary and Paul Kane shone in the growling Ford Mustang GT350 and are now sitting in second on the leader board. Greg Macleod and Daniel Butler had a self confessed ‘reality check’ and reshaped their Land Rover Defender after two and a half rolls into the boondocks. They continued in the crooked vehicle after Jerry and Margaret Meek, very sportingly, sacrificed their own test time and pulled them up the right way with their Land Rover Discovery. Alastair Caldwell finished the day with no clutch operation but still leads the Hatchback World Cup, and seemed very unfazed by this minor irritation. Leading 4×4 is David and Jaqueline Palmer in a Land Rover Defender 90. After pacing themselves sensibly and preserving the MG ZR from the start Paul and Sandra Merryweather have still needed to change the damaged top mounts – but have been supplied the wrong size spares.
As we drove into the lovely and unusual desert palace of the Kasbah Xaluca in Erfoud we are pleased to see Tim and Gary in the Discovery, after completing repairs back in Fez.
They are just in time to rejoin us in the dunes tomorrow!
After a luxurious and welcome night halt in between fingers of Sahara sand dunes, the morning test proved to be primarily, a test of navigation.
This open ‘desert raid’ with endless choices of route was an exciting challenge for the driver who, at times, could be simply aiming for a fortress in the distance. For the navigator it was a test of nerves – those with the ‘bottle’ simply encouraged their driver to ‘straight line’ the route between the GPS (satellite navigation) ‘way points’ (GPS spot locations). Straight lining, as opposed to following well-proven tracks, could easily result in coming face to face with impassable gullies or dunes. But following the sometimes-twisty tracks meant having to drive further. And for those who had failed to associate themselves with their GPS systems on the way down, it was a fraught time. Relying on the occasional ‘Tulip’ drawing, in the route book, of the forthcoming direction change was far from enough information to actually reach the finish control before sunset!.
The rally was pleased to see Paul Carter and Sarabel Barquillo’s Land Rover back in the car park this morning – having been ‘missing’ late yesterday. After breaking down, off route, they were finally spotted in the distance by the intrepid ‘sweep’ duo – Tony Fowkes and Andy Inskip who signalled their attention with the good old fashioned ‘mirror in the sunshine’ technique!
In what must have been a supreme combination of navigation, driving, (and possibly luck?) Felix Wright and John Hall bought the Focus home in an incredibly fast time by travelling ‘as the crow flies’. Faster still however, Iain Freestone and Rod Maclean in the Mk1 Escort further improved their advantage at the top of the leader board with a cracking run using the same technique.
At the opposite end of the ‘fortune scale’ both Paul and Mary Kane in the Mustang, and Jim Smith and Peter Stone in the Astra, drove over impassable sand dunes and became firmly grasped in the unforgiving hand of the Sahara desert. After waiting to be towed out by service crews, they received maximum time penalties placing both front runners well down the leader boards. Jason Heron and Iain Colwell in a Toyota HiLux, also fell foul of the desert by rolling their pick up truck.
The ever resourceful Alastair Caldwell, last seen yesterday without a clutch, had a fast run after spending last night in an Erfoud garage removing the gearbox and fitting a complete new unit. His Peugeout 205 was not without further incident however, after losing the spare wheel on the test, and having the battery fall apart under the bonnet.
The second test continued to challenge everybody with a very gnarly mountain track that pounded many cars to within an inch of their life. Punctures became a common problem and the truck with perhaps the largest and heaviest wheels to change, the Dodge Ram, got two.
Paul and Sandra Merryweather, in the MGZR with suspension problems, gave this one a miss after the faults worsened. Husband and wife crew, David and Jaqueline Palmer, finished the day as leading 4×4 and just 3 positions down the leader board. A remarkable achievement for such relative rookeys. The finish control, manned by Kim Bannister and Dave Perks, became a homing beacon for not only the rally cars but every child within a hundred mile radius. Their excitement and enthusiasm caused the usual mayhem – but also managed to strip the organisational Mitsubishi Shogun of every rally sticker it had – including the GB badge!
Back at our Zagora night halt we are pleased to see the re-arrival of the Coate’s Lotus Elan. Until new parts can arrive they had a dusty little garage back in Midelt, completely re-manufacture a rear stub axle to get them back on their way.
A much-appreciated short day today, saw some competitors relaxing around the pool by mid afternoon. This is despite a 2 hour hold up on the way into Ouarzazate while the King of Morocco inspected the local dam and put the entire surrounding area on hold.
The day started with a desert loop, just outside of Zagora, with an undulating first half that clearly suited the 4×4’s with their increased ability to soak up the lumps and bumps. Beyond expectations however, was David and Jaqueline Palmer’s storming fastest run of the day in a Land Rover with 13 seconds less time taken than the mighty Mk 1 Escort of Angus Stamper and Mark L’Anson – the fastest World Cup Classic. In the other Mk1 Escort navigator, Rod Maclean, needed a minute to himself at the end of the test after missing a turn off and losing the Escort wielding pairing about 3 minutes. It was a small and tricky junction and, running as first car on the road, they did not have the benefit of previous tyre tracks to help. They still however remain at the top of the leader board. Rock steady Alastair Caldwell and Brian Johnson had no such problem and continue to lead the Hatchback World Cup in the Peugeot 205. Mike Thornton and Jeffrey Bechtel put in a very respectable time despite hauling the bulk of a Toyota Land Cruiser around. And Adrian Grinstead and Nick Mason continue to achieve healthy consistent results in their Rover214.
A day on the World Cup wouldn’t be complete without a roll over and Michael Snaith and Brian Sunderland, in the Jeep Cherokee, even had the courtesy to conduct today’s episode in front of both the photographer and camera man. After failing to notice the rear tyre was running flat, they continued at full speed until digging the wheel in to a corner and falling on their side.
Continued drama included wheels falling off both the BMW 2002 of Father and son team Mark and Ben Munne, and off the Nissan Patrol of Mark Dinoulis and Vaida Zabarauskaite. Mark and Vaida escaped turning over, after sliding fast and sideways into a bank, and luckily shearing all six wheel studs before the big 4×4 could flip right over. Rally planner and results guru, Chris Bruce, came to the rescue bolting it back on with three studs borrowed from the other rear wheel hub. It was the exhaust that fell off the Lotus Elan today and Allison and Peter simply finished the test with it poking out of the side window.
Robert Belcher and Jeremy Buckler, as well as being last in the bar every night, are conducting an encouraging campaign this year which has included a superb second fastest test time. The amicable pairing have competed in every World Cup rally to date, and they have dramatic stories to tell from them all. Their snazzy looking Volkswagen Polo has, so far, suffered little more than a bent sump guard and is going like a train. If Robert hadn’t stopped for a friendly chat with the ‘mid test’ passage control marshal’s, thinking he was at the end, they would have got a pretty decent time today.
Peugeot pilots, Kevin Anderson and Paul Emmerson limped in late last night with the gearbox mounting torn clean off the top of the aluminium gearbox and exposing the gears inside. After a local garage’s failed attempt to weld the broken parts it was left to ace service crew, Pete Banham and Rob Kitchen, to make one of their legendary repairs using bolts and washers. Amazingly they too are going strong again and still competing in the tests.
For such a tough and action packed rally, it is quite incredible that we head for Marrakech tomorrow, still with every single vehicle that left Brooklands nine days ago.
Each day has been different from the others on the London to Dakar World Cup, and each test section presents a unique challenge that often favours different types of vehicle.
The first test on Day 9 actually drove through the World Heritage village of Ait Benhaddou and was definitely one for the ‘stage rally’ cars. The smooth, flat gravel allowed the more powerful cars to ‘let rip’ and, unsurprisingly, the quickest being an Escort. Surprising however, was the ‘maximum time’ that current leaders, Iain Freestone and Rod Maclean, picked up in the other Escort after suffering a serious oil leak. After stopping mid stage to repair it, they lost a lot of time and only avoided further road penalties at the next time control by a mere 30 seconds. Their day continued to disappoint because on the second test they misread a hairpin bend, which also had a side road, and lost time exploring the wrong track. This has given the lead in the ‘Classic World Cup’ to Angus Stamper and Mark L’Anson who where fastest all day. Paul and Sandra Merryweather, exploiting their temporary suspension repair, finally found the pace and were quickest hatch.
The second test was a steep, smooth hillclimb with a generous layer of very slippery and power sapping gravel. Expecting this ‘Pikes Peak’ style climb to favour the vehicles with all the grunt, it was very impressive that Andy Actman and Catriona Rings managed to get the little Daihatsu Sirion to the top – second fastest overall – and fastest hatchback. After retiring from last years event with a parts failure while leading the entire event, they had set a conservative pace for this event to help get the car to the finish. Having achieved two fast times today they have clearly decided turn up the wick for a good result as well.
Roger and Michael Stevens suffered an over heating problem in the Seat Ibiza and experienced the frustration of sitting half way up the hill until it cooled down. Many other vehicles found the going tough and by the time they reached the end, at an altitude of over 2000metres, their engines were gasping for air.
Phil and Lee Collins became stranded on a super tight and uphill corner after an attempted snatch into first gear left the gearbox seriously jammed in neutral. They arrived at Marrakesh late, and on the end Peter Banhams tow-rope having travelled hundreds of kilometres more than everybody else. The Police had refused to let them tow another vehicle over the awesome Tizi-n-Test mountain pass and they had to come via Agadir on the coast.
Those that completed the test continued via a long and gruelling narrow mountain track that clung to the side of mountain after mountain. The sights and views where breathtaking – but then so where the sheer drops to distant valleys below. The scenery continued to change bewilderingly from barren moonscape on the top, to lush and fertile terraced valleys at the bottom, then through eerie hillside villages where time has seemingly stood still, to colourful little communities full of excited children and so on. It finally joined the tarmac next to a lake which has a mosque that becomes completely submerged after the mountain thaws and the water rises. The track was long, bumpy and exhausting and Klaus and Maja Von Deylan, who intended to bypass this part of the route in their immaculate VW Beetle, inadvertently found themselves ‘on route’ but pressed on regardless. Fortunately, by the end, they were very glad to have indulged in the wonderful experience.
Rejoining the tarmac there was general relief at merely having a simple tarmac run into Marrakesh before the well-earned day off. Wrong!… Between that point and the city lies the legendary Tizi-n-Test. And, for those that had never driven here before, the first clue came from a road sign that, below the symbol for an ‘S’ bend, had ‘For next 120Km’ included. It must surely be one of the longest stretches of continually linked turns in the world and climbs to over 2000metres. With big patches of ice on the shady side, and huge drops everywhere, it is an intense driving experience. Hats off to Felix Wright who drove it all with broken power steering!
It was a long day and the ‘day off’ feels earned. Some will explore this fascinating and ancient city and soak up the concentrated atmosphere at the medina this evening. Many will be servicing and repairing. With the exception of those such as Nicky Porter, who’s well driven and well prepared car needed no more than a wash, some are unlucky enough to require complete gearbox changes and the like.
After our day off, the first test served to be a short, sharp wake up call reminding us why we are all here in North Africa and got us back into ‘rally mode’.
After a 5km steep and twisty climb, the next 5km of the test was equally steep – but going downwards. This gave the less powerful cars a better chance but tested the braking systems, and the navigators nerves, to the limit. After a hair-raising descent around hairpin after hairpin and with little margin for error keeping you apart from the valley floor, the finish marshal’s where jokingly asked by the passengers, on more than one occasion, where they could go to change their underwear.
Amazingly, every car that started the Event, duly arrived at the test start and this is credited to a lot of hard work by a lot of very determined and ingenious people. Pete and Betty Banham, Rob Kitchen, Andy Inskip and Tony Fowkes are legendary in this respect but the car park yesterday was full of impressive works of improvisation, resourcefulness and camaraderie. Mark Billingshurst, who is competing with Colin Metcalfe in a Land Rover 109 Safari, generously sacrificed his day off to spend it covered in gear oil helping Kevin Anderson modify and fit a new gearbox to the hobbled Peugeot 106.
And the heavily rolled Toyota Hi-Lux of Jason Heron and Iain Colwell, which was considered unsafe to continue as it stood, was miraculously transformed into a Toyota Hi-Lux that had been driven off the side of a slightly shorter mountain. The Collins Land Rover has also returned to the fray with a new gearbox.
The second test on gravel had to be cancelled after an off course excursion by the Astra of Jim Smith and Peter Stone who were unlucky enough to hit one of very few trees in the areamresulting in damage to the suspension, steering and radiator. Accompanying the rally every single step of the way, is a formidable medical back up team. Two crews in 4×4 Ambulances with enough kit and experience to deal with any situation where perfectly placed and Dr Paul Rees and Lisa Henderson attended the incident within minutes.
After a week of driving on relatively deserted roads, the section of Agadir trunk road used to reach the final test was a brief reminder of home. Just a typical main road with clusters of slow moving lorries, it actually felt very inconvenient that we should have to share it with others. The final hillclimb though was back out in the ‘sticks’ and after a slog up the hill, competitors then encountered several plagues of locust to amuse them. The mountainous run down into the coastal night halt of Agadir was a beautifully scenic end to the day.
Today was not well suited to the Land Rovers and fastest 4×4 in the morning was Dominic Manser and Jeremy Davies in the Jeep Wrangler. The steep uphill, and slightly roomier, 3rd test gave the monster Dodge Ram room to spread its wings and claim fastest 4×4 but the Jeep Wrangler still claimed second achieving them a good days work. Tony Manos and Chris Prudden in the Morris Minor where all smiles, had a very good day, and seem to be ‘on it’ now. They reached the time controls before they shut and overtook a car!
We hauled out of the sprawling coastal town early this morning and finally head due South.
The main topics of conversation are the forthcoming dunes and the lack of an actual road to lead us through Mauritania in a couple of days time. Few actually know exactly what to expect from the desert in the days to come but imaginations and the anticipation heighten the sense of adventure. Today we have only one test, but a lot of ground to cover and perhaps a last chance to satisfy ourselves that the GPS navigation has been ‘cracked’ and that we are all ready for anything. Getting lost in the Sahara is not an option.
What appears to be a straight line South, for 700 odd kilometres on the map, was actually another interesting mix of different sights and landscapes. More busy little towns, varied desert scenery with increasingly large sand dunes encroaching the road more and more, and our final mountain pass, albeit a modest one. But, most notable experience of all was the sight of the enormous rolling surf coming in off the Atlantic and battering the rocky coastline. With the road occasionally dipping down to near sea level at the attractive coves and inlets, it would easily become a tourist magnet, if it where accessible without having to conduct an expedition to get here. Scattered along the beach are many eerie looking shipwrecks, some completely broken in half, and all rusting away in the hostile environment.
After reaching the test section towards the end of the day the rally had been regrouped and so even the vehicles with lower cruising speeds had caught up. If the long day felt arduous in a Totota Landcruiser, auto with air conditioning, imagine the task for Simon and Liz Chance in the Citroen 2CV. They have done loads of long distance rallies in this little twin cylinder car, with absolutely no frills or luxuries, and always happily battle on regardless.
The test was a fast, loose service road, twisting and cresting alongside the main tarmac. There where a number of junctions on the way and, those that led back onto the road, where marked off with ‘rally arrows’. Unfortunately one of the very first cars apparently ran wide and knocked one over. Even though the track did have route directions in the roadbook this still caused a lot of cars to overshoot one particular turning and lose some time. The last half of the track surface was particularly slippery and the whole area had an odd brown tinge – on closer examination it could be seen that the entire area was covered in a carpet that consisted of billions of dead locust.
It was an enjoyable and fun test section except perhaps for Tony Tak and Mick Malhotra, in a Hi-Lux who thought that they may have missed an organisational Mitsubishi Shogun that is at the time control. They unfortunately went up onto the tarmac and back to another Shogun that was merely spectating. Andy Actman and Catriona Rings in the Daihatsu, who are currently the second placed hatchback, fell off the track by missing the corner after one blind crest, and had to beat their way back through the rocks to lose just paint from the bumper rather than actual time. Most impressive result of the day however, was once again the Palmers in their Land Rover. They came in 4th fastest overall and leading 4×4 by 10 seconds over the Johnstons Land Rover. The Stevens managed to get to all the time controls, and put in a good fast run, even after spending much of the morning at the Seat garage which attended to the overheating problem that has been lurking for a few days. The final task of the day has been to find, and bring back enough beer for tonight’s stay at our “dry” hotel.
The rally continued South to devour another large chunk of mileage through increasingly desolate and barren landscape. By now we are seeing more camels than people and experiencing more and more police checkpoints along the way. The police have been extremely friendly and actually seem quite pleased to see us more often than not.
A short and simple test broke up the day but achieved very little as far as results are concerned due to a low ‘bogey’ time having been set. This being the target time that many competitors achieved or where faster than.
Andy Actman and Catriona Rings Daihatsu Sirion is now starting to show serious signs of the punishing roads that it is being forced to undertake (although was never designed to experience) and is being ‘braced and ledgered’ around the front suspension struts to help stop them folding upwards any further.
Late in the evening after the rally arrived at Dakhla, out on its 40km spit of sand jutting out into the Atlantic, Mark Dinoulis and Vaida Zabarauskaite caught back up with everybody. They spent all the previous night and most of today having a new clutch fitted to the Nissan Patrol.
Straight out this morning to a fabulous and challenging test of mixed terrain. The section consisted of smooth flowing gravel curves, rough and undulating sections, many boulder-strewn corners, and even old and new tarmac as well.
It was well liked by most drivers although some tricky navigation caused many to experience a hiccup at the passage control by approaching from a multitude of directions. Paul and Lisa Rees, manning the control, described the scene as being like the ‘Wacky Racers’ with cars screeching to a halt and roaring off in every direction possible.
By the test finish there where many dramatic stories to tell of cars being pushed to the limit and beyond. Iain Freestone described hitting a crest so hard that the Escort took clean off, but then being thankful that it had done when looking down at the huge rock he was flying over. The rocks and boulders that adorned the test caused many punctures and the results have, yet again, taken some notable changes. Sensationally, the fastest time of all was taken by Anna McColl and Paul Clark in a Land Rover 90 with 3rd fastest being Martin Collins and Mark Potter who approached the finish whilst fighting the enormous Nissan Patrol from lock to lock – an awesome sight.
Mark and Ben Munne had to repair a broken electrical wire near the end of the test and Roger and Michael Stevens, unbeknown at the time, holed their sump on a rock. They discovered the leak much further down the road, when they ran out of oil. Major disaster of the day was to be Paul ‘Ginger’ Carter and Sarabel ‘Wafer’ Barquillo’s when they had a monster roll in their previously neat looking Land Rover 90. Despite severely reshaping the body, chassis, and even bending an axle, they where repaired and back on the road – shaken not stirred.
The rally then passed through miles of white sanded desert and dunes until the Morroccan exit and Mauritanian entry. Border controls are always a hectic time and this was no different, but the passage was made easier by slick border management from rally officials Kim Bannister and Dave Perks.
Between the two border posts, in ‘no mans land’ some of the two wheel drive hatchbacks experienced a little of what was to come by getting stuck in the relatively insignificant sandy patches!
We stop the night on another long spit of land, this time the home of Nouadhibou, a busy port town that features a large bay crammed with of all types of rusting ships, awaiting salvage, and the longest train in the World – the Ore Express. This train is a breathtaking 3km long and runs continually between Nouadhibou and Attar, trucking iron ore to the port. Any competitor caught at the railway crossing faced an agonising 10-minute wait while it trundled by.
This is what we have all been waiting for. A full days test section blasting into the unknown and maintaining a heading from GPS units , and using the best instincts that can be mustered at each moment. Instant decisions had to be continually made as to which tracks end up in the correct direction, or which patch of sand looks the fastest or firmest to use. To virtually everybody here this is a new experience but the split second decision could either result in another kilometre of speedy progress, mean becoming bogged in a giant sandpit for hours, or veering off course and missing the valuable passage controls.
The tension and air of concern from most two wheel drive crews has been evident for days and this was amplified on the morning by last minute changes of plan. This part of the Mauritania sometimes never receives rain in a whole year but in the last few days has had several days downpour causing concern about how passable the route may be. After a recce’ last night the first quarter of the route was indeed deemed too treacherous to make passage and so a new route was hastily designed and published to avoid the high risks. Competing navigators then faced, on an already tense morning, a new timing schedule and a new route to plot into their navigation systems.
After a 17km flat out blast across smooth hard plain, only interrupted by large patches of hard and tufty camel grass, the rally joined the original test route, slightly further down. It was a truly epic Sahara drive through all manner of rocky technical parts, undulating sandy dips and hollows – dodging around huge impassable dunes – and lengthy stretches of wide flat desolation. There was never a clearly defined correct route and a certain amount of luck would need to be on your side for a quick time without needing the sand ladders and shovel. That said, Alastair Caldwell appeared to show some form of unnatural instinct by completing the whole test in record time and without becoming stuck in the sand once. He explained later that he simply kept his foot hard down and launched his self so fast into the sand patches that he couldn’t fail to pop out the other side with all the momentum. All credit the Peugeot 205 for being able to handle the punishment. Every other 2 wheel-drive car could probably write a book on today’s adventure and most had spent sweltering hours digging their cars out. One particular longitudinal hollow of the soft stuff saw hatchbacks and classics beached as far as the eye could see – in both directions.
Of course for the 4×4’s this is what they came for and they duly loved every minute. A glance down the results clearly shows how the odd seconds, gained or lost earlier in the rally, now pail into insignificance compared to the hours exchanged here. Eternal memories must be etched in many minds of, amongst other things, blasting flat out down the super wide pistes with others either side and clouds of dust billowing in the wake, as if on some storm trooping exercise.
Paul and Mary Kane ripped through the desert in the fastest time and the sound of the V8 Mustang engine could be heard for miles around, but they failed to find and stop at a passage control encumbering them with a 15-minute penalty.
Fantastically, the Morris Minor, 2CV and Lotus Elan, surely the most unlikely Desert Raiders, finished the day successfully with desert mission accomplished.
By the final passage control at 70Km from the beach side evening rendezvous camp and an hour from sunset, the BMW 2002 of father a son team the Munne’s was missing since last being seen at the previous control. The organisation immediately instigated its rescue plan and a small armada of 4×4’s, including local guides, spread out and swept back up route to find them. Earlier on the ‘sweep’ crews had rescued the Merryweathers after they used their satellite phone and GPS co-ordinates to enable an easy recovery. Having had a particularly unlucky day by burying the MG in every soft patch in Mauritania, they called for help in good time before sunset and before sweep vehicles had left the area. For the Munnes however it was not so easy as they didn’t carry a sat’phone. They are a capable crew and having suffered a flat battery, and hence unable to start the engine, conducted some sound procedures by marking surrounding tracks with distress signs helping rescuers locate them in this huge and intimidating environment. They were already resigned and ready to spend the night in the car, and await recovery the next morning when they saw the friendly headlights piercing the dusty and dusky evening light, just before night had fallen completely. Remaining rescue crews where then rounded up by satellite telephone and the fleet picked its way back to the beachside camp by moonlight and just in time for last fuel from the bowsers and last grub from the kitchen tent. The final run into camp was aided by ‘Paris-Dakar’ veteran, Tony Fowkes, who let off his ’emergency firework’ after seeing distant headlights of the rescue convoy cresting a ridge.
Paul Carter and Sarabel Barquillo continue to make the news with such mishaps as failing to notice that the back door had fallen clean off the back off their Land Rover today. Their luggage was spread across 41 Km of desert before they got to the coastline and noticed it had all gone.
After sleeping under canvas last night, having been lulled to sleep by the sound Atlantic Ocean, the rally emerged bleary eyed and a touch dishevelled, for breakfast on the beach.
The rally then immediately restarted in earnest for another desert storm from dune to dune and through sandy valley after sandy ridge. The 4×4’s where ready for anything and expectedly relished the challenge and ploughed on through. The hatchbacks and classics, also expectedly, where a touch pensive, very tired, and picked away more carefully at the options that lay ahead. Inevitably there where lots of cars getting bogged down in the soft troughs of sand but the 4×4’s towed many straight out avoiding the prolonged agony of a physical digging operation. It was a great route and the final part of this morning section finished by running the length of a dry ocean inlet of huge proportions. It was a very fast passage and welcome relief after the energy sapping dunes. The test finally ended after passing along an ocean-side track that was home to the most incredible and dense selection of birdlife. Most notable where Pelicans, Stork, Flamingos, Herons and Clerk of the Course and highly experienced ornithologist, Martin Clark, was pleased to have seen Osprey as well.
Leading hatchback team Alastair Caldwell and Brian Johnson had a tense time early on in the test when the Peugeot 205 started running sick, and looked like conking out completely, before sparking back into health and allowing high level business as usual.
David Williams and Keith Whyman made mincemeat of this test in the Dodge Ram and Mike Thornton and Jeffrey Bechel put in an impressive effort in the Landcruiser as well with the second fastest time.
There was then a regroup alongside huge whale skeletons whilst waiting for the tide to go out far enough to conduct the final ‘beach run’. It was a hot few hours wait but allowed time for competitors to integrate with the local kids and community, give away a few gifts and surplus kit, and for Felix Wright and John Hall to temporarily repair the broken trailing arm on the rear suspension of the Ford Focus.
The eagerly anticipated beach run started with a tricky traverse of a ridge of dune running the entire length of the coastline. Some immediately became stuck and so the eventual feeling of the beautiful firm waters edge beach beneath the tyres felt even better for them. It was an amazing and unique experience to drive fast for 50km, literally hugging the sea to stay on the firmest and flattest sand, and dodge the incoming surf and the huge flocks of gulls that adorned the sand. The ‘high line’ was slower and softer sand and included some spine jarring ridges that, in Anna McColl and Paul Clarks case, managed to completely flip their Land Rover 90 over forwards so dramatically that it landed back on its wheels – albeit a different shape. They picked up the debris and finished the test seemingly unflustered – but as the locking wheel nut key had been flung into the surf during the roll, they were forced to complete the test with the flat tyre that had exploded in the roll.
Dominic Manser and Jeremy Davies are still pushing hard but nearly blew it all and floated out to sea after overtaking Alastair Caldwell and Brian Johnson right on the shore line. They hit a harsh ridge and spun out clean into the Atlantic. The Jeep Wrangler team scrabbled back to dry land much to the amusement of the Peugeot crew.
Robert Belcher and Jeremy Buckler continue to press on well and, perhaps inspired by the film crews onboard camera strapped to the bonnet today, passed many other cars on the beach and continue to keep the Polo in really good shape.
Paul and Mary Kane must have literally flown the GT350 from ridge to ridge on this test to have achieved their impressive fastest time.
Martin Collins and Mark Potter where fastest 4×4 and their super sturdy Nissan Patrol has suffered no worse than the windscreen washer pump coming a bit lose on this entire gruelling rally.
By the time the late comers drove the beach the tide had risen and so the driving line had narrowed to the point where much of the time was spent actually in the shallow surf. Lyndon Swann and David Nadin in an old Land Rover 109 arrived at the finish control absolutely drenched from head to foot inside the cab but as usual found it all a big laugh. By the time all the layers of salt had dried on the cars half the field looked as if it had been iced by a cake maker.
Further down the road on the way back to the hotel, Colin Metcalfe and Mark Billingshurst in the oldest vehicle on the rally, where chuffed to have towed the newest vehicle here out of some sandy road workings. Organising team member, Dave Perks, was embarrassed to have beached the Mitsubishi Shogun and needed a tow from the 109 Land Rover – particularly as he had just torn the bumper clean off the front of Ben and Mark Munne’s BMW by trying to tow them out. The excruciation will continue for Dave because it was all caught on film.
Stephen Cooper and Aggie Foster had a bad day after removing the bonnet of the little Citroen AX to help the overheating engine. It was not the best thing to have done before the beach run though as the engine became duly soaked and ‘lost’ a couple of cylinders. It never recovered and came in tonight on a rope.
It is a fairly euphoric feeling coming into a comfortable hotel after two long and tough days and sleeping rough, so the rally is in good spirits and recharging the batteries for the ‘day off’ quite possibly to be spent repairing the machines.
Some spent the rest day in Nouakchott lazing by the pool and others spent parts of the day checking out the markets, sights and local colour (grey/brown). The majority however, spent at least some of the day repairing or servicing their cars. Wonky Land Rovers were straightened, to some degree, with new glass tank taped in place while others, such as Kevin Anderson and Paul Emmerson’s Peugeot 106, required a new clutch. One thing was definite and that was the two service crew’s where kept busy for the whole ‘day off’. Some of the Land Rovers, before the event, had been beautifully prepared by a couple of professional off road racing specialists….. the ‘roll over’ score is currently;
‘Scorpian Racing’ – 3…..v…..’Frogs Island’ – 1
The Seat Ibiza of Roger and Michael Stevens, which holed the sump several days ago, had subsequently developed ominous engine noises and they wisely decided to skip the difficult desert sections rather than risk becoming marooned up to their necks in sand. The car has now caught back up with rally, having spent 25 hours on the back of a lorry, and it started again today. The truck journey became an adventure in itself. After breaking down on route South, the Mauritanian truck crew secured the tilted cab with a shoelace and then invited the Stevens underneath the precarious Bedford ‘guillotine’ to help them fix the engine. Later on they continued trucking while the second driver cooked up lamb and rice for everyone, inside the cab, without so much as slowing down. After nightfall Roger and Michael awoke, feeling cold, and with no sign of the drivers. With few other options they decided they may as well bed down for the night and hope they return by morning. They went to the fetch their sleeping bags from the car and on reaching inside all hell broke loose as the startled truck crew woke up having decided that the Seat Ibiza was the warmest place to spend the night.
The job today was simply to get out of Mauritania, through the border, and into St. Louis, in Senegal.
The road out of Nouakchott was an easy tarmac run through tiny villages consisting of shacks and huts clustered in the scrub. As usual in Africa there where many Police checkpoints to contend with but passage was unhindered to any notable degree thanks to prior negotiations by the Organisation. The final leg of the run to the border was a long drive along the top of a roughly constructed dyke that serves to protect a huge estuary area from the tide. A stubborn Monitor Lizard measuring a metre and a half in length temporarily halted progress at one place but most of the journey consisted of just dodging goat and cattle and not slipping off the edge of the ridge.
Progress through the borders went like clockwork thanks again to ‘our man on the rally’ Dhafer who is a wonderful diplomat and mediator and has a wealth of rally organisational experience in North Africa. And also to the Senegalese motor club who welcomed us at the border still wearing their very snazzy ‘Barcelona – Dakar 2005’ jackets.
Although a simple liaison day, the roads are still very trying on machinery and of course, the machines have nearly had enough. The Morris Minor suffered one broken shock absorber and one completely missing – whereabouts unknown, and The Escort of Angus Stamper and Mark I’Anson had a shock absorber pierce its way through a turret. Stephen Cooper and Aggie Foster where frustrated to learn that the engine problem they have been dogged with for the last few days was only caused by a blocked fuel filter.
Senegal is a wonderfully colourful place and although the roads are still rough as old boots, is giving us even more fresh sights and experiences. The smaller residential parts of town are jammed with activity, noise, beautifully dressed women, scruffy but happy kids, and more goats than you can shake a stick at.
After running straight through the middle of the busy and buzzing town of St Louis we crossed two large bridges to be, yet again, staying on a sandy spit of land jutting out into the Atlantic. This one is smaller more sheltered little peninsular however and the ‘hotels’ are actually really nice holiday resorts with the accommodation consisting of individual little straw roofed circular huts, sitting right on the sandy beach amidst the palm trees.
Tensions rise as competitors leave St Louis through the busy and fascinating old streets and squares of Portuguese colonial architecture and head for the pink tinged lake – Lac Rose – at Dakar. It’s the final day of an epic adventure that has tested man and machine to the limit. Some have it all to lose on this final day whereas, of course, some that have less to lose could well use this opportunity to go for Dakar glory or bust. Word had spread that this could also be the ‘sting in the tail’ and maybe there was a little something to catch out the navigators. There was no such intention but anguish was intensified further by some last minute route book changes before the very last test of the rally.
The section was a long flat sandy track that looped away from the main road and returned back at the same road further down and had no passage control to report to at its furthest point. The track was actually very difficult to follow by using ‘tulip’ symbols alone, due to a myriad of optional paths, so once again using GPS waypoints was the name of the game. It was a nerve racking time for the navigators and despite over two weeks of practice vehicles where still going in all directions before long.
Alastair Caldwell and Brian Johnson started very conservatively, wisely capitalising on their comfortable lead and seemingly driving well within their impressive capabilities. Felix Wright arrived at the start with the windscreen of the Focus so badly smashed that navigator John Hall may just as well have been blindfolded on his side of the car. Stephen Cooper and Aggie Foster arrived late to the start – their patience well and truly tried with the troublesome little AX Citroen.
Citroen 2CV stalwarts Liz and Simon Chance left the start line on only one of its two, already feeble, cylinders. On the sides of the car it says; No Fan belt, No water pump, No Distributor etc. Instead of ‘No problem’ at the end it should have said ‘No chance’ as on its one cylinder it failed to move more than 10 metres through the soft sand. Of course this was no still no problem for the intrepid couple who calmly and cheerfully sorted the problem and got on their way.
Richard Hayward and Kane Athay in the Land Rover 110 gained a large advantage over 4×4 leaders Dominic Manser and Jeremy Davies, by taking advantage of the sections lack of passage control. They ended up pipping Manser and Davies to the post to win the 4×4 Cup.
Iain Freestone and Rod Maclean extended their lead and won the Classic Cup by conducting a good hard charge from day one and pushing hard enough to render a few hiccups, earlier on, insignificant.
Alastair Caldwell and Brian Johnson completed an astonishing achievement in the 15 year old, two wheel, drive Peugeot by not only winning their World Cup but being the quickest overall vehicle on the whole rally. Only those who have crossed these actual deserts themselves and will really appreciate the scale of this achievement. To complete this entire route without becoming stuck would not have been considered possible in such a car.
However, hearty congratulations are due to absolutely every body who made it from London to Dakar including Roger and Michael Stevens who limped to within 80km of the finish before expiring the engine and finishing on the tow rope of Phil and Lee Collins Land Rover. The Collins themselves had incident today resulting in a smashed screen. This was after passing all but one of a large flock of enormous vultures.
Paul Kane summed up the World Cup for everybody, but the three winners, as being an event of