Getting up close and personal with the Dakar Rally

Getting up close and personal with the Dakar Rally

I feel like the fat kid in the preverbial candy store. Around me there’s a plethora of cars, quad bikes, lorries, pick ups and motorcycles that I don’t quite know where to look.  If cars had testosterone, then you’d find them here in Chilecito.

I hear a rumble as something closely resembling the Batmobile drives up behind me, politely revving it’s engine as a hint to get the hell out of its way. Life in the Dakar Camp is nothing but a boys dream. And I’m smack in the middle of it.

The drive to Chilecito – which is where the end of the Dakar Rally’s Stage 3 finished – was a fairly brief affair. It was short in distance (a mere 100 something kilometres) but taking us over one of the most hair-raising yet fun mountain passes I’ve had the good fortune to drive on. I say hair raising, because it was one of those routes that could be included in ‘the world’s most dangerous roads’, made even more dangerous by the fact that it’s not been finished! A sheer 1000ft drop on our left, gravel roads, dubious road works – it was an accident waiting to happen!

Our campsite, situated a couple of kilometres outside of Chilecito was a grand affair in comparison to what we might have had.  There wasn’t much to it, less for a fairly enormous swimming pool  situated in the centre of the camp and a rather dubious smelling toilet block.  Apparently by Argentine standards, it’s bloody good. I’d agree, but I’d better describe it as decaying grandeur.  Regardless – it was perfect.

Having had lunch, at mid-afternoon, we drove in convoy to the Dakar camp, parking 5 minutes away and walking the final 500 hundred metres to the entrance. Equipped with special wristbands, we walked by the crowds queuing for a glimpse of the camp. We had access to all areas. Bliss.

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Locals trying to get a glimpse of the cars passing by. ©Tobias Mews

My first impression upon seeing the camp was – bloody hell! It was like the film set of Mad Max – dusty and weary looking motorcyclists and drivers wandering around. Mechanics furiously working on their the cars, quad bikes, lorries or motorcycles under their care. TV crews waving cameras in various peoples faces. Helicopters flying above the camp, providing areal images for the TV stations. It was chaos!

Part of the Mini X-Raid camp ©Tobias Mews
Part of the Mini X-Raid camp ©Tobias Mews

The last thing they needed was another 26 open mouthed journalists and photographers to deal with.

My fellow journalists and photographers on the Mini Adventure
My fellow journalists and photographers on the Mini Adventure

With so much to take in, I decided to concentrate on my two tasks. Get an interview with one of the Mini X-Raid drivers – ideally Nani Roma or Orlando Terranova and another with the CEO of X-Raid, who could tell me more about the logistics about the race.

Orlando Terranova - winner of the first and third stage. ©Tobias Mews
Orlando Terranova – winner of the first and third stage. ©Tobias Mews

Luckily I managed to get both, but sadly not with Nani. On the first day of the Rally, last year’s winner had a mechanical issue which delayed him by 5 hours. Nani had gone from being the main contender for the title to being so far back in the rankings, there was no chance of him catching up. But he’s not given up and still pulling in good results.

CEO of X-Raid. ©Tobias Mews
CEO of X-Raid.©Tobias Mews

I’m definitely not a petrol head, but I think I could easily become one after today. In fact, I could expand that to this week. I’ve been so impressed by how well the Mini Countryman Cooper S has performed out here. We’ve been using it some of the gnarliest terrain on offer in Argentina – and it’s performed brilliantly! Seriously impressed!

From Villa Union to Chilecito.

Distance driven today: 130kms
Number of punctures: 0

To learn more about the Dakar Rally, go to www.minispace.com/Dakar-2015 or follow the hashtag #GoBoundless

Read Day 1’s blog here.

Read Day 2’s blog here.

Read Day 3’s blog here.

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Written by

Tobias Mews

Tobias Mews

Pau, France
Adventure Athlete and author with a penchant for tackling the toughest endurance races in the world. 250+ races and only 1 DNF.