Zhou's best performance
Young Zhou set a new personal best in his eighth Dakar. The Chinese driver managed to avoid all the pitfalls to finish thirteenth in Buenos Aires.
Young Zhou set a new personal best in his eighth Dakar. The Chinese driver managed to avoid all the pitfalls to finish thirteenth in Buenos Aires. His shocking flip in the final stage of the 2014 edition is forgotten. Young Zhou made no silly mistakes this year. The Pekinese who made his Dakar debut in Africa ten years ago managed to finish thirteenth without mishap. “What's more,” he points out, “we didn't even have a flat tyre!” An uneventful Dakar for the Mini driver, who says he had a rather relaxed race. “It was tough, but at least we did a good job with Andy”, explains the Chinese driver. “We only got navigation a bit wrong one day. Apart from that, we avoided all pitfalls, especially on the dunes and fesh-fesh, where we made no mistakes. For me, the toughest part was coping with the altitude. I once felt quite groggy in Bolivia.” Fortunately, Young Zhou's German co-driver kept him awake. After two years away from the Dakar, Andreas Schulz jumped back into the world of rallies with gusto. A two-time winner of the event (2001 and 2003), Schulz quickly found his feet again. “This was my 22nd start”, he points out. “And it wasn't the toughest yet. I have to say the road book is ever more accurate and there were lots of tracks to follow. I would've liked to revisit Peru. There weren't enough dunes and sand for my taste.”
Özdemir believed in himself
Inspired by the late Kemal Merkit, Serkan Özdemir's dream came true when he finished his first Dakar: a fantastic performance by the Anatolian rider.
Four Turkish riders signed up for this year's Dakar, but only two of them made it to the finish in Buenos Aires: Sakir Senkalayci, who had already taken part before, and Serkan Özdemir, a newbie in the legendary rally. It is an even greater exploit for the rookie, as he is the first rider from east Turkey to finish the Dakar. “My dream's come true”, says a proud Serkan, who like the other Dakar riders discovered rally raid by following the adventures of the late Kemal Merkit. “I kept my promise to the Turkish people. I know people followed the Dakar back home. I hope I made them dream and I hope others will feel the urge to go on this adventure. At any rate, I plan to return next year and bring a few folks with me.” Finishing one's maiden Dakar is never easy, especially when, like Özdemir, one has no experience in rally raid: “The race was very difficult”, admits the Anatolian rider. “I'd never ridden in the desert, I hadn't come up against fesh-fesh and I'd never ridden ten hours straight… let alone every day for two weeks!” Serkan suffered a lot, but he has no regrets. “I never gave up because I was psychologically ready to suffer. I was well prepared, but I must say conditions were very hostile. Sand, heat, cold, rain, altitude… You had to believe in yourself to make it to the finish.”
Daniel fends off the attacks of the Dakar…
The quad rider from Buenos Aires was tasked with shepherding the Argentinean rising star of rally raids, Lucas Bonetto. He finished his third Dakar alone, proud of helping his leader and with a clear perspective of the mental resources needed to finish the race…
He barely seems tired when he enters the Rosario bivouac. He takes his helmet off and breathes out: the 1,024 km of the twelfth and penultimate stage are behind him. The satisfaction of finishing his third Dakar straight lies just in front. However, when one suffers as in the Dakar, wariness is rife: “I hope everything will be fine.” “Daniel Domaszewski puts his hands together and looks towards the sky. It's not about superstition or fear… His Dakar was turned upside down when his leader Lucas Bonetto had to withdraw. “We tried to repair his machine for four hours without success…” From stage 4 onwards, Daniel rode alone, drawing on the experience of his two previous Dakars, which he finished in 14th and 10th place. He pulled it off thanks to his meticulous preparation and, most importantly, his iron will: “For me, the most difficult part this year was the context: the cold and the rain. I also suffered on the second passage of the Andes, on Paso de Jama. That's where the Dakar attacks you and can defeat you: you're alone, you doubt… But thankfully I learned to listen to myself, to ride within myself and to put recovery first every evening.” Daniel pauses and sighs: “I've taken part in the three toughest Dakars since the race came to South America. I think it's all about coping with pressure, stress and anxiety. Not letting your mind stray away so the Dakar can't beat you…” A few hours later and he is all smiles on the podium in Tecnópolis: “I'm so happy.” Sixth overall, his personal best, no penalties: a total victory over difficulty thanks to his iron will. A true Dakar story.
059 - Santosh opens the door
Santosh Chunchunguppe Shivashankar, the first Indian to participate in the Dakar, managed to finish the rally in Buenos Aires. The KTM rider is proud of his exploit and hopes to inspire a generation in his country.
Santosh Chunchunguppe Shivashankar, hitherto an anonymous rider, is about to return to India as a hero. “I think my phone will light up with messages as soon as I turn it on”, chuckles the KTM rider. “From what I've heard, they've talked a little about me on the news since the start of January”. India, with 1.3 billion inhabitants, should give its first competitor to finish the Dakar a worthy reception, especially considering that this was Santosh's debut at the most famous rally raid on Earth. “When I watched the Dakar on TV as a kid, I was fascinated by all the competitors who managed to finish the race. When you start an event like this one, you never know how far you'll make it. Every day is a challenge, it's really tough.” The sands of Chile were the toughest part for Chunchunguppe Shivashankar. “But so was the second stage on the Argentinean fesh-fesh in scorching heat”, he adds. “What I enjoyed the most was the last three specials in Argentina. The landscapes were jaw-dropping.” And the finish loomed on the horizon. The Indian rider is proud of his exploit and hopes to inspire a generation in his country. “I've opened the door”, he says. “I've shown that it's possible, an Indian can do it too. I hope there'll be more of us in the future.”
314 - Erik van Loon makes history in the Dutch book of Dakar
Erik van Loon has worked hard in his previous six Dakars to achieve where he is now: in fourth in the car category.
The Dutchman had quite some top 10 results in individual stages and finished eleventh in 2011, but had his share of drama as well. This year all pieces of the puzzle fit together.
Last year was disastrous, with a car that was fast but not reliable. Already at the finish (in 26th) Erik van Loon decided that he never wanted to go through that again. He bought a Mini and learned how to use the car. “The Mini is great, but it is not such an easy car. You have to get to know its characteristics. Once you understand that, it's the best you can imagine.”
Van Loon, having 60 hours work weeks in normal life as one of the leading meat manufacturers in the Netherlands, made his way up to the top of the car category with consistency. “Everybody can drive fast. The trick is not to make mistakes, or at least not too many. Thanks to the mechanical problems I had in previous years, I've learned to drive conservatively. I've also learned I don't have to take maximum risks to be fast. The Dakar is a game for the long run. I don't have to finish at a top spot every day to be in a top spot at the end. That strategy worked out very well.”
With his fourth place Van Loon writes a new chapter in the Dutch book of Dakar since the best ever result in the car category so far has been the fifth place of Kees and Mieke Tijsterman in 1989. “My goal was a top 10 finish, which was a realistic and achievable goal. Finishing fourth is beyond my wildest dreams, but we've earned every bit of it ourselves by consistency and not making mistakes, although a puncture in the penultimate stage and not getting the spare wheel fitted immediately was quite a thrilling and stressful moment.”
141 - The last shall be the first
Dutchman Erik Klomp was the last rider at the finish of the penultimate stage of this Dakar. Therefore he had the honour of being the first one to enter the final special, on his way to the finish of his first and probably last Dakar.
At 50 years of age Erik Klomp decided it was now or never if he ever wanted to do the Dakar. The past few weeks have been a struggle but a legendary adventure as well. “I could have never imagined it would be this tough. Not one day has been easy. Not only because of the terrain, but mainly because of circumstances like altitude or the weather. I have never experienced such extreme highs and lows, going from below zero and riding in the snow to 35 degrees and being surrounded by cactus just a few hours later.
Something has happened to me every single day. I mean, the one to last special: it wasn't that difficult, but then the little can with spare oil I have on the inside of the fairing began to leak. There was oil everywhere and I had to clean it first before I could move on. These 300 kilometres took me more than six hours because of such a small thing. In the liaison to the bivouac in Rósario I took a break after every hour of riding. It was great! I had lunch with the police, had coffee with the fire brigade, ate cakes with a family that came to see the Dakar. Everybody was cheering and waving and wanted to take photos. I felt like a hero, even though I was the last.”
014 - A major disappointment
Although he was cherishing the hope of finishing in the top 5, Alain Duclos has had to accept that he will finish his twelfth Dakar lower than twentieth place, which is a major disappointment for the French rider.
It was between Iquique and Calama when all his hopes caved in. Although he managed to make it unscathed through the exhausting Bolivian marathon stage at the salt lake in Uyuni, Alain Duclos came unstuck on the way to Calama. “It was an electrical problem,”
laconically drawls the Sherco rider, who up to that point had taken a lot of pleasure on a Dakar deemed to be very physically demanding due to the route but also the weather conditions encountered. Were his problems due to the crossing of the salt lake? “We don't know,”
he replies. “Our electrics are usually waterproof”
. Towed with a strap by Fabien Planet, his devoted team-mate, Alain reached the last Chilean bivouac after losing five hours. “It was a major disappointment,”
comments the Frenchman who had been in sixth place in the general standings and could legitimately have laid claim to a top five place on the second part of the rally. Sixth in 2010, this year Alain will not improve his personal best on the Dakar. How will he get over such disappointment? “You just have to get on with the job,”
he says.“You can't let yourself feel down, you have to keep flying the flag, even just for the kudos”
. Duclos promises that he will continue battling and that he will be back again next year with the firm intention of achieving the top five finish that escaped him this year.
103 - Third time lucky?
The only Zambian ever to take part in the Dakar, Gregory Reeve is readying himself to reach the finish of the rally for the first time. For the sturdy African farmer, it looks like being a case of third time lucky.
His goal is to see Buenos Aires and to celebrate. This evening, Gregory Reeve will not go and sleep to his heart's content after climbing onto the finishing podium in Buenos Aires. The Zambian rider has planned to worthily celebrate his return to the Argentinean capital. “I'm planning on partying for as long as possible,”
he announces. “It's not everybody who manages to finish a Dakar”
. It has taken Gregory three years to achieve this feat. In 2013, on his first participation, he broke a leg on the twelfth day of the race. Last year, his rally stopped on the third day due to the same injury, but that did not put him off. The KTM rider has come back again in 2015 after having learned the lessons of his two previous failures. “I started the rally with the idea in my mind that you need intelligence to succeed, not just balls,”
he laughs. “So naturally, I checked the standings every evening, but I never put pressure on myself. I took it easy and I'm still here today. Apart from in Bolivia when my bike really didn't like the salt, I've enjoyed every moment. It's a difficult race, but I'm not going to grumble about it, because we come here for that type of challenge. The dunes, the desert, the mountains… it was all magnificent”
. Gregory Reeve enjoyed his third Dakar all the more since he is unsure of coming back next year. “It's difficult to find sponsors in Zambia,”
he explains. “And being a farmer doesn't make it any easier”