Dakar Rally rookies Van Staden and Lawrenson tough it out in South America
With the first two days of the 2013 Dakar Rally in South America behind them, South Africans Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson (KEC McRae MC-4RS) are still in the world’s longest and toughest motor race despite experiencing a few problems in the sand dunes of Peru.
Saturday’s 13-kilometre opening special stage was not much more than a brief prologue for the seasoned Dakar Rally competitors, but for some of the less experienced crews it turned out to be a brutal wake-up call for the long and arduous 4 200 kilometres of racing that lie ahead in the next two weeks.
Van Staden and Lawrenson, runners-up in the 2012 South African Off Road Championship in the special vehicle category, arrived just a minute before their start time and were unable to lower their tyre pressures after the 250-kilometre liaison stage from Lima to Pisco. As a result they battled in the soft sand that characterised the stage and lost time when they got stuck. Then an oil pressure problem in the McRae’s 3-litre turbo-diesel BMW engine meant they only had 40% of their engine power. They eventually finished 141st in the car category, 14 min 11 sec behind the stage winners, 2010 Dakar Rally winner Carlos Sainz of Spain and Jean Paul Cottret of France in a Buggy.
After fixing the engine problem overnight in the bivouac in Pisco, they started near the back of the 151-car field and were confronted with the first real test of the 2013 Dakar – a 242-kilometre special stage in soft, deep sand and dunes near Pisco in temperatures that reached 40 degrees Centigrade.
“It was a really tough day,” reported Van Staden. “We got stuck in the sand on three separate occasions and lost around 40 minutes altogether. We also had fuel pressure problems which delayed us even further.”
They brought the 4×4 McRae home in 103rd place, 3 hr 47 min behind stage winners Sainz and Cottret and now lie 106th overall in the car category, 4 hr 30 min behind the leaders.
“We’re finding our first Dakar as tough as we expected, but we’ve had a few early problems with the car and hope that once these are sorted out, we’ll be able to concentrate on improving our driving and navigation skills in the sand and prepare ourselves for the bigger challenges that await us in the days ahead. There’s still a long way to go and Mike and I are in good spirits and determined to be at the finish in Santiago on January 20.”
Monday’s stage three from Pisco to Nazca includes a 100-kilometre liaison section before a 243-kilometre special stage. Ahead lies a sequence of dunes called Ergs in Africa. All the competitors who go over them without getting stuck will be able to proudly breathe a sigh of relief. Their reward will be to take advantage of the route along the sea front on the second half of the special stage, but they will have to beware of tracks at the end of the stage that will require all their skill and vigilance.