Camelia Liparoti, a Pink Panther with a dash of black
Dakar 2024 |
Stage 6 |
January 12 th 2024 - 00:39 [GMT + 3]
After nine Dakar starts on a quad and another six in T3 or T4, always draped in Yamaha blue and, especially, rocking her signature pink, Camelia Liparoti kicked off the 46th edition behind the wheel of a Challenger OT3 belonging to Guillaume de Mevius's G-Rally squad. When a door closes, a window opens.
The Pink Panther is far from gone. It is still roaring on the helmet that Camelia Liparoti puts on every morning before she rolls out of the bivouac. In contrast, the many shades of pink that adorned her vehicles and jumpsuits, from her early quad days in South America to the SSVs that she has driven across Saudi Arabia in recent years, are nowhere to be seen. Ditching the flashy flair that was once her trademark, the Franco-Italian racer now slides into an all-black buggy, sponsor-free, with her race number, 322, as its sole distinctive feature. What on earth triggered such a dramatic transformation? "It all happened in a matter of days", explains the blonde with the most iconic pigtails in the bivouac. "I was scheduled to start Mission 1000 with a vehicle from an American tuner I met at the Sonora Rally, as I'm a true believer in hydrogen as a tech of tomorrow. But on 24 December, we got wind that the flight transporting my SSV had simply been cancelled."
The last time a Dakar started without Camelia was when the race was still held in Africa. Before throwing in the towel, she still had time to dial a few numbers... just in case. "I called Guillaume de Mevius, who mentioned that one of the OT3s he'd prepped was up for grabs because the Argentinian crew who were supposed to rent it had pulled out. Rather than letting it collect dust, he offered me a cracking deal and I accepted in a heartbeat". Indeed, there was no time to waste, considering that this call took place on New Year's Eve! The epitome of efficiency, she had to piece together this brand-new venture in under 24 hours, racing against the clock before the rally got under way in AlUla on 5 January. "I obviously wasn't prepared at all. For example, I had to ring up a friend in Qatar to ask him to lend me a little motorhome, and then I roped in my old buddy Walter Fortichiari, who has done the Dakar 34 times and also took just five minutes to say 'yes'."
So, here was Camelia Liparoti in AlUla, the last competitor to hustle through scrutineering, gearing up for the prologue in a car she had never even laid hands on: "It's unlike anything I've ever driven before. It's heavier and the driving dynamics are different because, for example, I need to shift gears manually. I was off balance, so I eased up, which hurts your performance big time over 30 kilometres. I ended up 39th in my class, leaving me to start the first stage bang in the middle of the trucks. But little by little, I got the hang of it, clawed my way to 21st in the stage 5 and, now, we're heading into the dunes". On her favourite terrain, Camelia showed that she was now one with her new vehicle, wrapping up the 48H Chrono in 20th place in the Challenger class. Yet, after the first week, which came like a bolt out of the blue, it is not the sporting outcome that is front of mind for the surprise entrant, but the feeling of returning to the realm of the Dakar in January: "Honestly, I love stepping out of my comfort zone, changing tack to grow and improve. I've never experienced such a plot twist —it's like something straight out of a film. But that's the Dakar for you. It's why we love it, why we loathe it, and why we keep coming back." In pink, black or any other colour.