There will always be those who argue that the real Dakar rally took place on the African continent. They are right, Since this was, after all, the original concept – the love of founder Thierry Sabine for the Saharan region and motorsport, gathered together in one spectacular event. And while African rallies have never been days of innocence, those were the days when the organization focused more on competitor in the media. It was not possible to finish at 15:00, then all the end-of-day interviews could be conducted in the light of the Sun, in comfort. The first priority was to help the competitors and the media had to simply do their best to adapt to this. And those were the days when a bivouac was exactly that, only a handful of tents in the desert, not an expanse of camper, Suite for media and VIP Hospitlity.
“There was a spell in African events” Remember Nick Craigie. “The loneliness.”
Craigie, an avid enduro (then and now), He had decided that he would run for the 20th anniversary of the event. He had run the 19th Edition, in 1997, but it had been forced to retreat after eight days with engine problems.
"We thought would work best with Rotax engine Castrol CCM-R40, a vegetable oil. This was probably true for short-term events [These engines were used extensively in American flat track racing] but with the prolonged hot operation in Africa has led to the accumulation of carbon in the engine, especially on small terminals. This has stopped my bike, and those of Adrian Lappin and Vinny Fitzsimmons. A disaster, but the lesson is complete. ”
With the edition of 1997, always understood as a rally warming 1998, Craigie learned his lesson and returned the following year as a member of a team of four men all Irish on CCM. Craigie still remembers that the first two days – still in Europe – were hard as none. The departure was a Place d'Armes, Versailles, in France, 937 km on the first day, below zero until the end. On the second day were other 1182 km course in freezing temperatures, before the third day finally competitors arrived in the Mediterranean port of Almeria.
“I made the mistake of thinking that at that point the cold was over. I gave up my cold weather kit, is his cry liberating was "hot Africa, arrival!”
Only that Craigie had neglected the small matter of the Atlas mountains…
“The third stage, for Er Rachidia, was probably my worst day ever on a motorcycle. I had already ridden for hours at temperatures of -4 ° C through France, but now I had the same temperatures while trying to cross the Atlas mountains in Morocco. I no longer had my equipment warm and with high winds the effect of wind chill cold was huge. I spent six or seven hours, riding all by himself, relying solely on myself, trying to ignore my fingers numb and shake your body, trying to move on. I was lucky, We saw a little’ of Sun in the afternoon and this was like heaven. The soft warmth that offered me made me continue. In all it was a stage of 14-15 hours. I would have made a very tough ride in the desert in the days to come, but mentally I would judge that day, as worst by far. “
The fifth stage would be the final test. A super long day, 1050 km in length with many sand dunes, competitors resorted to cross the famous Erg Chebbi.
“The deep sand was really hard and forced the bikes to consume as much fuel, on average one litre for 7 km, that supported, would have reduced our effective autonomy from about 450 km only 300 km. The organisers had anticipated this problem and set the point too far from where we were ashore. There was no fuel on loan from another competitor – everyone was trying to conserve every drop that had.
“Our Dakar would have ended there – as has happened to so many – but we found a solution by three of us, team riders CCM. We have combined effectively our fuel, putting it all in one motion (Adrian Lappin) and he went to the supply. There he filled each tank he had and went back, along the route in reverse, to break down the fuel. It was a high-risk strategy – He could easily get lost, collapse, crashing, certainly not us – but it was all we had. Fortunately we found, but it took four hours and other amazing 350 kilometers to Adrian.
“And it is at that point, towards the 17:00, in the late afternoon, that our Dakar changes. Dusk comes fast, and it's pitch black before you know it. This changes everything. A distance that you go in an hour in daylight you will turn four in the dark. You can imagine that browsing is a nightmare. At 18:00We calculated that we still had 450 km from runs until the end of the stage. “
When we got to check the Sunrise, We reached the bivouac, even as the first participants were leaving for the sixth stage. For teammates of CCM there was scarcely time to refuel, take a snack to eat and make the line-up to start the next phase.
“We were together after the departure. It wasn't easy we ran all day and we wound up running again at dusk. At some point Fitsimmon Vinny lights came on. We were each on our sand dune at that time. I stopped, I went to him to help him, When I returned to my bike I sat and I immediately fell asleep. I just woke up only when Vinny came in and kicked me, telling me. “If you sleep now not going to wake up ever”.
“The stage ended up towards the 4 or at 5 in the morning ', says Craigie. “Then, an hour or two after it was already time to leave.
“We had two precious hours to sleep that time, but were essentially 72 non-stop hours in the saddle – We just get a day of rest.
“So many things happened, during the race. Always happened. On that last stop before the rest day we found You Pavey [He also on a MC], He had crashed very hard. We were with him for a while then we loaded up and we escorted up to a roadblock and we told him to stay there until morning; with the next day which was a rest day, would come back in the morning and participate in the demonstration. It was the day nine with 11 still to do!
“Obviously the rest day was anything but. We spent the day changing the engine of my bike ".
The dangers in rallying come from all directions. A danger particularly unpleasant is what arrives by car drivers. Since every day the bikes start at first, It happens that faster machines that follow will exceed a good portion of these few along the way. Be overtaken by a car on the road is not a big deal, but in a rally in the desert is an experience much uglier …
“If there is a safety regulation that I pleasantly shared was the Sentinel system to warn the bikes for a car that is overtaking. When the cars you pass is definitely the most dangerous time of the event. Roll up so much dust that for so long drive practically blind and that's when you might hit a rock or fall in a hole – I mean to hurt you. You may also slow down, but this only increases the danger that the next car lashes out against you and you will be a target very slow. Mentally the stress of knowing that they were coming, waiting for the sudden explosion of noise and blinding powder, was extreme, very very scary, and a fear that we would have faced every day. The only bike was going out from the track, literally a half a kilometre from the path, until you were gone. Certain, This will slow you down in a clear manner.
“Eventually it happened that I too have been invested! We were in a section of the dunes where you make your way to zig zag. I saw this Schlesser Buggy to get, He saw me, but as I passed on a dune, he literally passed over. Me and the bike were completely under him, I was looking at the cup of his car. Obviously I wasn't very pleased, but he didn't stop, leaving me there. I found it at the bivouac that night and I told him my feelings about!
The 1998 was the first year that the GPS has been adopted across the Board for Dakar. The organizers have provided a GPS system ERFT.
"Too bad my never worked. Or better, It worked in the bivouac, until about five minutes then no longer worked for the rest of the day. The technical team of the organizers tried in vain to restore it: eventually they thought it was the frequency of the electrical circuit of the bike to stop him. Never mind, I drove by scrolling notes on roadbook and tracking on the ground or the clouds of dust. I admit that I've never been a great Navigator. “
Even with a GPS running wouldn't go better. One day Craigie recalls that his roadbook had a message that said “Next 358km – Navigate by sight”!
“Another day we were suffering what I imagine was a form of snow blindness. Even with tinted glasses, sand sunshine burned your retinas. I was riding with Adrian and we had to take turns one to lead while the other rested eyes focusing on the rear fender of the rider in front of him. When the pain became unbearable, I exchanged.
And when the camp was finally reached – in the dark – not always we found what we needed.
"We had a mechanical support and even the girls were, but we met with them every three days because we followed by plane and then they needed some form of airstrip. There was no way that i could keep up with the support truck rally and reach every night the bivouac. It was too difficult. So for most of the rally we did our maintenance at our bikes.
“At the bivouac awaited us a big tent with rugs, but when we got all the top riders and drivers were already in their sleeping bags – so no room in the Inn! So did maintenance work, and we would in our sleeping bags next to our bikes with a mosquito net over our heads. However there was never much time to sleep ... "
Craigie was lucky he'd had only one serious accident during rally.
“It was late. I was going too fast on some whoops, When all of a sudden I went down and the bike launched by air. While I was flying in the air I thought: “This will hurt, very bad ". But I was lucky. I was raised without nothing broken, I was fine. The bike was a bit bruised and lights pointing in the wrong direction. But I was still in the running, again behind Vinny [Once again in the dark] to reach the finish line. “
Reach the finish line of Lac Rose is the dream of every pilot that kicks off in Dakar. Just getting there was a nightmare …
“Don't you ever from the obstacles of the Dakar. Recover a bit right on closing day. But from there on we became increasingly tired, If you don't sleep you don't get. Are you riding ignoring kilometers, simply counting the days. Often it happens that you're running in a haze, you're not very connected, aware that sooner or later something's going to happen to scare you, so at least the adrenalin would come around and you'd be vigilant for a while.
"At the end I was in a State of total collapse. I had been full two stones and it took me a long, a long time to get back to normal. Over the race for the next eight months I was physically exhausted. My hands and my arms were in tatters. Some might recover quickly but for me it's been a long time before I felt normal again. “
Rotax engine 600cc dual start air cooled, single cylinder, with a power of about 50 HP, with a top speed of around 130 km / h.
Standard frame with gussets for extra double welding CCM but resistance. A total fuel capacity of 45 liters. Weighed about 240 kg