Two weeks. 9,000 kilometres. Nearly 400 started. Less than 200 finished two weeks later.
Sometimes numbers are really all you need to sum up an event.
For the second year running the Dakar Rally, rather confusingly, found itself racing across South America. From the Argentinean capital Buenos Aires to the Pacific coast of Chile and back again in a variety of cars, trucks, bikes and quads.
The racing took place over 4,000km of special stages, taking in fast gravel roads, the towering sand dunes of the Atacama desert, a dry salt bed and a track at 3,000m above sea level through the Andes. It took even the fastest finisher nearly 48 cumulative hours.
Of course, with the equivalent of 24 F1 races, 12 NASCAR races and two Le Mans 24 Hours, there were many stories to take in. Some funny and some tragic as the leads of all four categories (well, maybe not the trucks) changed throughout the race. In many ways the stories of the winners are the most boring.
Here, class by class, is a recap of the 2010 Dakar Rally.
The battle for victory in the car class was always going to be a battle between the works diesels of Volkswagen (VW) and BMW, with Robby Gordon’s Hummer and the privately entered petrol-driven Mitsubishis fighting over scraps and hoping the big names slipped up.
And some did slip up.
Nani Roma won the race’s opening stage in Argentina in his BMW. However, he and his co-driver Michel Perin soon became the first major retirement. After rolling his car on a sharp bend on the second stage, losing 15 minutes, the Spaniard suffered a second, more major role during stage three. The second accident severely damaged the right-rear of the car, as well as injuring Roma, bringing an early end to their race.
On the same stage the realistic title defence of Giniel de Villiers came to an end. The South African was forced to stop early on in the 182km stage with problems for his five cylinder VW diesel engine. He, while many competitors fix their own problems, was forced to wait for his team’s support truck to get started again. The damage was a loss of almost three hours on the day, and the reigning champion reduced to a glorified spare tyre carrier for his more fortunate teammates.
That left Stephane Peterhansel, a multiple champion rescued from the 2009 Mitsubishi squad when the Japanese marque withdrew their factory support, at the head of the field, before he too fell by the wayside.
His downfall was to be his driveshaft, which failed on the fifth stage between Copiapo and Antofagasta.
While he was able to get back in the race without waiting for his support truck he had already lost 50 minutes and the lead. However, the fix was only partial, the Frenchman having to complete most of the stage with his normally 4WD car languishing with only front wheel drive. The eventual two hour fourteen minute loss putting an end to any ambitions he had of adding another victory to his collection.
So what of those who would take their places?
The Mitsubishis, all five of them entered by JMB Stradale were fast but inconsistent.
They were frequently found in the top 10 fastest stage times on any day – enough to see them taking advantage of the misfortunes of the works drivers.
But they too suffered set backs.
Orlando Terranova lost over three hours on the torturous stage three (you may gather from parts of this article that stage three was especially difficult), while Carlos Sousa, the team’s most experienced drivers lost 90 minutes on stage seven after having to improvise his braking system with a repair job that involved oil lines and a pair of pliers taped to the front suspension.
Sousa would eventually finish sixth, the best non BMW or VW as Peterhansel, despite his set backs was able to recover to fourth overall.
The only three cars that managed to complete the event without a major setback, were the top three, and all were Volkswagens.
Carlos Sainz took a richly deserved Dakar win, twelve months after seeing a near certain victory ebb away as he rolled his car into a gorge. Consistency, rather than all out pace was the key to Sainz’s win, illustrated by the fact he did not win a stage until the tenth day of racing, by which time he was already in the overall lead. Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah was close behind overall, finishing a paltry two minutes ten seconds behind in the end, the final days being a duel between the VW drivers as any team orders were forgotten.
American Mark Miller rounded out the podium, once more claiming the unofficial, but much reported position of ‘Top American’.
His only real rival for that title, Robby Gordon, struggled in 2010, a year after he and his Hummer buggy finished third overall.
For me Robby and the Hummer are part of the modern Dakar legend. He’s mad and the car is beautiful (no, I never thought I’d say that about a Hummer either). His flying jump over the ceremonial start ramp in Buenos Aires, the picture for this article, just about sum it up.
But he, and his 2WD car, were shown up badly this year.
The opening stages did not suit him, the NASCAR driver describing how the car just slid around the corners on the fast tracks, and when the rally hit the desert where the Hummer was meant to excel it let him down.
Punctures one day, problems with the automatic tyre inflation system (an allowance for running a 2WD car) another, alternator problems on another, just plain getting stuck in sand on many.
There was a lone stage win, but it wasn’t enough to stop Robby finishing eighth overall.
Perhaps the best news were the rumours that 2011 will see a 4WD drive Hummer.
Car Category Top Ten
1. Carlos Sainz (VW) 47h10:00
2. Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0h02:10
3. Mark Miller (VW) +0h32:51
4. Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) +2h17:21
5. Guerlain Chicherit (BMW) +4h02:49
6. Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi) +4h31:45
7. Giniel De Villiers (VW) +5h10:19
8. Robby Gordon (Hummer) +6h02:24
9. Orlando Terranova (Mitsubishi) +6h04:47
10. Guilherme Spinelli (Mitsubishi) +6h13:41
Let me start off a look at the bikes by saying, for me, they are the toughest people in all of motorsport.
Not only do they have to absurdly fit to survive a very physical ride on rough terrain, on heavy bikes.
They have to expert navigators to find their way through the sparse desert stages.
Oh, and they have to be engineers as well, having to fix their own bikes should they breakdown on stage. And all while having a sense of camaraderie that’s rarer than hen’s teeth in professional sport.
For a perfect example, let me take you under a tree in the middle of nowhere on stage three. There you would find Marc Coma stopped with a fuel system problem (vapour lock for the nerdy or knowledgeable). Rival David Casteu (who was fighting Coma in the overall standings at the time) stopped to see if he could help.
He couldn’t, but when Casteu tried to start again his Sherco bike refused, thanks to an electrical problem. Coma got a set of jump leads from his field repair kit and helped put his rival back in the race.
Coma would eventually rejoin after solving his problem in a wonderfully low tech manner.
Blowing into the fuel tank.
Unfortunately, hurtling across rough terrain on two wheels also makes you vulnerable to injury, some of which can sound quite gruesome, for example Casteu’s stage five retirement that apparently involved his calf muscle being pulled away from the bone.
However, the man of the race, and then sadly the retirement of the race was Luca Manca.
An Italian privateer, Manca had riden in similar Rally Raid events with some success, but this was his first attempt at the Dakar. And it was an attempt that was having some success, a string of top-ten times on the second, third and fourth stage putting him fourth overall.
However, all that was to change on stage five. Manca was asked by Coma’s KTM team to help their rider on stage, and he did just that, handing over his rear tyre to Coma after the Spaniard suffered a puncture.
The sacrifice made Luca a hero, part of the 2010 Dakar story, but his chapter was to get longer and darker the following day.
Having completed the fifth stage twenty-fifth fastest after receiving assistance, in turn, from Coma’s teammate Henk Knuiman Manca started stage six in the dust of the riders ahead of him and fell only a few kilometres into the day, suffering severe head injuries to the extent that organisers bypassed the normal trip to the campsite doctors to take him straight to hospital.
There, in a medically induced coma he was diagnosed with cerebral edema and transferred to a neuro-surgery unit in the Chilean capital Santiago. After several days in a life threatening condition Manca awoke from his coma, and is, by all reports at the start of a long road to recovery.
And by way or equality there has to be a woman of the bike race.
That has to be Christina Meier, for her part in the story of stage three.
Her bike broke down, but only two kilometres short of the end of the stage. Unable to fix it by herself Tina, helped by a local, rode a horse to the end of the stage, where she picked up her mechanic and returned to the stranded bike, still on the horse.
Helped by the mechanic’s instructions (under the rules he was not allowed to touch the machine) she made it to the end of the stage. She would go on to be one of the 88 bike finishers.
At the top of the overall standings it was all about two men, and one of them wasn’t actually at the top.
That was reigning champion Coma, who despite being predictably quick was hit with several penalties. Twenty-two minutes for speeding through a village, followed by a six hour slap on the wrist for what organisers deemed outside assistance after allegations that he was given a new rear wheel by a spectator on stage seven. The penalty dropped Coma to 24th and had him threatening to quit the rally in protest.
The allegations (coincidentally) were made by the man who benefitted most from them, Cyril Despres.
With Coma demoted, it removed Despres’ only real challenger from the equation, and he went on to take a third Dakar Rally win, with an overall lead of over an hour. Coma, meanwhile, having continued the race finished 15th overall 6h32 behind Despres – 6h22 can be accounted for by penalties.
Bike Category Top Ten
1. Cyril Despres (KTM) 51h10:37
2. Pal Anders Ullevalseter (KTM) +1h02:52
3. Francisco Lopez Contardo (Aprilia) +1h09:48
4. Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) +1h19:33
5. David Fretigne (Yamaha) +1h55:56
6. Alain Duclos (KTM) 1h58:35
7. Jonah Street (KTM) +2h49:43
8. Jakub Przygonski (KTM) +3h15:59
9. Olivier Pain (Yamaha) +3h28:20
10. Juan Pedrero Garcia (KTM) +3h33:48
In the truck class it really was all about one man this year. Vladimir Chagin.
The Russian had already won five titles with manufacturer Kamaz, using their military designed trucks, complete with 17 litre, 800hp engine, and 2010 would become his sixth title, and the third overall win by a Red Bull sponsored team, with Despres and Sainz also carry the omnipotent energy drink’s logo.
But he would also take another two records in a dominating performance.
The nine stages, out of fourteen, he won (a record in itself) saw his career stage win tally rise to 56. With that he won one of the hidden battles of this year’s Dakar as he and Stephane Peterhansel fought for the overall record for stage victories. For several stages the two were in lock step, both taking the eighth for their 54th victory.
However, while Peterhansel had to battle in the more competitive car category, Chagin was able to take two more stage victories before the end of the race to take the outright record.
Even aside from Chagin it was a Kamaz tour de force. Of the five stages Chagin didn’t win, his Kamaz teammate and 2009 winner Firdaus Kabirov took four. And the final stage, well that went to the third Kamaz driver, Ilgizar Mardeev, giving Kamaz all 14 stage wins.
Kabirov would finish second overall, Mardeev fifth after mechanical problems and a five hour penalty.
The best non-Kamaz, Dutchman Marcel Van Vliet in a Ginaf was nine and a half hours slower than Kabirov.
Truck Category Top Ten
1. Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) 55h04:47
2. Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) +1h13:08
3. Marcel Van Vliet (Ginaf) +10h43:20
4. Martin Macik (Liaz) +12h21:21
5. Ilgizar Mardeev (Kamaz) +14h59:29
6. Wulfert Van Ginkel (Ginaf) +15h29:16
7. Teruhito Sugawara (Hino) +17h29:37
8. David Oliveras (Mercedes) +23h19:06
9. Jordi Junanteny (M.A.N.) +25h15:27
10. Bellina Claudio (Ginaf) +26h47:12
The quad class was a very South American affair, as Argentinean brother Marcos and Alejandro Patronelli finished first and second. But it was not always so clear cut as Marcos two hour twelve minute margin suggests.
That is largely down to the high attrition rate in the class, as only 14 of the 25 starters finished the rally.
Hans Deltrieu, who had won the second stage, became another victim of stage three where he crashed out of the race. Then 2009 winner Josef Machacek retired on stage four, but it was on stage five that the race swung in favour of Marcos when his brother lost nearly 59 minutes, dropping from eight minutes behind, opening a hour chasm behind Marcos, a gap that got even larger when Jorge Miguel Santamarina (another Argentine) retired on stage seven.
But even then it wasn’t straight forward.
Just like Coma, Marcos Patronelli was accused of receiving outside assistance, and was penalised three hours, putting him behind his brother by 30 minutes.
However it was to be short lived, after both brothers threatened to quit the rally. While the riders were on stage eight it was reported that the official who had made the complaint had withdrawn it, Marcos being immediately cleared and his massive lead returned to him, and he would never let it go again.
Quad Category Top Ten
1. Marcos Patronelli (Yamaha) 64h1744
2. Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) +2h22:59
3. Juan Manuel Gonzalez (Yamaha) +5h07:31
4. Christophe Declerck (Polaris) +5h46:56
5. Rafal Sonik (Yamaha) +5h50:24
6. Sebastian Halpern (Yamaha) +9h07:31
7. Oldrich Brazina (Polaris) +16h33:41
8. Brice Auert (Can-Am) +16h52:16
9. Bernando Graue (Can-Am) +17:37:20
10. Daniel Mazzucco (Can-Am) +25h18:39
Sadly, the 2010 Dakar was not with tragedy, with spectator Sonia Natalia Gallardo being killed after the car of German driver Mirco Schultis hit a group of spectators watching from outside the safe spectator areas designated by race organisers.