Tuareg Rally, Day 4: Kingstage Over 200 Kilometers Of Dunes

The start of the fourth day of the rally was spectacular. The cars started simultaneously, lined up side-by-side, a face-off with the desert. The motorcycle start was Le Mans-style, each rider running to mount and start his bike on the signal.

The view from Stéphane and Caro’s Protruck emphasized just how small the Rally was on the immense scale of the desert.

Ahead lay four stages and 16 checkpoints over 200-250km of dunes in the Erg Chebi, the exact distance depending on how the drivers chose to navigate the dunes. At the briefing the evening before, Rainer had said that very few of the participants would master all the stages, and that some drivers might get stuck and have to sleep overnight in the dunes if they couldn’t be helped out in time. “You should prepare for this,” he said. Florian and Yvan seemed worried when we recounted this advice at the dinner table, but they looked relaxed and confident at the starting line.

Sylvain and Cécile checked over the GPS positions one last time while waiting.

The photographers were also waiting at the top of a dune to film the race as it got underway.

When Rainer gave the starting signal, it was chaos for a few minutes; cars were everywhere as the drivers looked for the quickest way over the short line of dunes and onto the fast dirt track that led to the first checkpoint.

One of the Wildcats came over the first dune with a burst of power, only to hit the bottom hard on the other side, breaking both axles. The day was over for them, but they took the car back to camp where the mechanics replaced the rear axle. They’d start again tomorrow, finishing the race as a two-wheel drive instead of four.

Florian and Yvan had also gotten off to a slow start after having been squeezed into a difficult trajectory by two cars who closed in on either side. As a result, they were stuck in the sand out of sight behind a dune, and we didn’t realize it until several minutes later when they’d dug out the car and got back on the way. Suddenly, they were coming out from behind a dune and then heading off surely into the horizon where the others had disappeared a short time ago.

We stayed to watch the motorcycles start Le Mans-style, with each rider running to his bike on the signal. Once they were gone, we got into the car and drove over to the first CheckPoint to wait for our drivers to come in after the fast stage on the dirt track.

Sylvain arrived first of our group, followed by Raoul/Cécile and Stéphane/Caro.

The day had started out fast, so we didn’t hang around too long at the first CheckPoint, hoping to get some good pictures of the cars coming out of the big dunes at CheckPoint 2.

We watched one motorcycle rider winding his way down from the top of the dunes, slipping on a flat gravel area at the bottom about 100 meters from the CheckPoint. He called out to us that he’d done all of the Stage without a single fall, only to wipe out meters from the end.

Sylvain and Pascal were the fourth car to pass CheckPoint 2, and they took a minute to go over the roadbook together before heading off in the direction of CheckPoint 3.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay to see any of our other racers; Stéphane and Caro were on the way down the dunes but were having trouble with the wheel bearings again and needed assistance. We had to go back to camp and get the MAN KAT. We’d drive it at close as possible to their position, and then go to meet them with the JK Rubicon.

On the way, we stopped to fill up the tank, and while we were paying for the gas and a quick snack that would have to serve as lunch, we were approached by a young man who heard us speaking French and was curious about the rally. He turned out to be a stunt driver on location with the crew who was filming Intersection, a new film directed by David Marconi and produced by Luc Besson in which a car crash on a remote Moroccan road leads to a strange turn of events. We would have liked to have been able to talk with him longer, but we didn’t have time to linger.

Back at the camp, we set out with the MAN KAT and the Rubicon toward the GPS coordinates Stéphane had sent. He wasn’t far from the second CheckPoint, so we lost time as we had to go all the way to camp and then back. At the bottom of the dunes, a local man on a moped gave us some tips on how to reach Stéphane’s location without getting stuck. He said it would be more difficult to go straight up the dune, advising us instead to head up east of Stéphane’s position and then change course to meet him. We followed his advice and didn’t have any trouble.

A few minutes after we arrived, we were surprised to hear the sound of a motor. Looking around we saw it was the local man on the moped. He parked his bike in the sand, dismounted and said “The Jeep climbs well.” Since he seemed surprised, we asked if we had not followed his instructions, and he said “Well, not exactly!”

Stéphane had already started to do what he could while waiting for us. Today it was the wheel bearings on the other wheel, and Edouard got to work with him right away.

Within a few hours, they had the Protruck ready to drive out of the dunes, but it wouldn’t be possible to resume the race again until the cause of the problem had been addressed. Without a way to keep sand and gravel from getting into the bearings in the first place, Stéphane and Caro would have the same problem every day. Since they didn’t have the original part, Stéphane and Edouard didn’t have much choice except to make a cover to seal the bearing. If the work wasn’t finished in time to start the race tomorrow, the team would take a penalty for missing the day.

2 Responses to Tuareg Rally, Day 4: Kingstage Over 200 Kilometers Of Dunes

  1. Pingback: 2012 Tuareg Rally, Photo Highlights « Erg Machine

  2. Pingback: 2012 Tuareg Rally Day 4 Starting Line-up (video) « Erg Machine

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