Dakar 2012: The pressure starts to build
During the second day of scrutineering, pride of place was given to the trucks, with the appearance of the Kamaz and De Rooy teams, predicted to be rivalling each other for triumph in Lima. In the car and bike categories, the main outsiders on the rally laid out their strategies.
“It's impressive, it almost looks like a floating bivouac,” joked Etienne Lavigne as he strolled down the waterfront of ‘Mardel', as the Argentines call it. Between the bathing huts and the naval base, which is hosting the administrative and technical scrutineering, a jetty plays host to a vast waiting area, where the competitors have set up to carry out final adjustments to their vehicles.
Early morning visitors could have come across the trucks of the De Rooy, Kamaz, Tatra and Man teams, ready to get stuck into a fierce battle for victory. Soon after, however, they headed to the scrutineering stands, to submit themselves to the compulsory tests. Conversations with drivers and observers pointed to the fact that this year, the truck category is more open than ever. The retirements of Chagin and Kabirov (with 9 titles between them) are a significant reason, even if their replacements Nikolaev and the young Mardeev are very promising.
The competition is both technically adept and confident, as shown by Micki Biasion, the third element of a dream team led by Gerard De Rooy and Hans Stacey: “To beat the Kamaz team, you need a team made up of several very competitive trucks,” says the two times world rally champion. “This year, De Rooy has managed to do just that, so there is a genuine opportunity of victory”. Aware of how true this analysis is, Ales Loprais is displaying more modest ambitions, but it should not be forgotten that he also managed to beat the Kamaz trucks on the Silk Way Rally: “Our team is not at their level, so I'm going to settle for picking up stage wins”.
The demonstrations of power were therefore to be found in the truck category for the second day of scrutineering, but some party spoilers in the car category were especially keenly expected, starting with Christian Lavieille, waxing lyrical on the qualities of the Proto 011 Dessoude that he aims to place in the Top 5, as he vaguely hinted: “There's no question of me putting any pressure on myself, even if many drivers have had a keen eye on the new car”.
As regards the bikes, Despres and Coma will be centre stage tomorrow, but their main challengers had plenty to say today.
Their comments mainly concerned the penalties that will be handed out for each engine change. Frans Verhoeven is placing his trust in the brand new Sherco to grab a Top 5 finish and even set out a very precise road map to achieving this goal: “We are going to use two engines, because I believe that nobody amongst the favourites will manage to finish the rally on one single engine. I'm planning to change it after 8 days of the race”. The strategy is similar for Jakub Przygonsky, 2nd in the world championships this season: “I think that everyone will replace the 1st engine and nobody will replace the 2nd.
So it doesn't change a thing”. As for David Casteu, leading rider in the Yamaha France team, his remarks seemed to be a mix of opinion and bluff: “We will very probably change it once, but the engine is capable of holding out for the whole Dakar. It managed to clock up 12,000 km during the tests!” At the end of the day, one of the major players in the discipline however seemed to be totally disinterested by this year's hot topic. The crash which left Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez with multiple fractures last spring has encouraged him to go back to basics: “I don't have any strategy at all and no ambitions.
I'm just happy to be here, after what happened to me. I'd like to see Lima”. Just like all the riders, drivers and co-pilots who will be taking starter's orders on the rally on Sunday morning!