Dromedaries unlike any others
Dakar 2024 |
Stage 8 |
January 15 th 2024 - 10:55 [GMT + 3]
Toyotas and the Dakar go back a long way. Arnaud Delmas-Marsalet has been part of this history in various capacities, as a race driver in the 80s, as a supplier of vehicles for the organisation and now as a preparer for candidates in the Dakar Classic. Three teams have been entered by the Compagnie Saharienne at the wheel of its ‘dromedaries’.
When taking stock of the 4x4s that have taken part in the Dakar throughout its history, you are bound to be struck by the number of Toyotas that populate the rankings at the finish. In particular, the dynasty of Land Cruisers of all generations seduced the adventurers of the 1980s, won over the drivers who wanted to conquer the Lac Rose in the 1990s, and continued to find a large number of fans in the 21st century. There's no need to wonder too long for the reasons behind the success of these vehicles, which are ideally suited to tackling the Dakar. Their sturdiness, ability to tackle the dunes and reliability have made them a benchmark for enthusiasts. Unsurprisingly, a good number of these Toyota vehicles can be found on the Dakar Classic, and Périgord-based tuner Arnaud Delmas-Marsalet, founder of the Compagnie Saharienne, has recently made a speciality of offering these desert beasts to novices who want to get started. This was the choice made by Olivier Delrieu, for example, who forged his adventurous character in ocean races, including the Transat Jacques Vabre, before deciding to enter the Dakar Classic. “I find that they have a lot in common, like endurance, discomfort and life as a duo,” says the Parisian company director. "And when it comes to 4x4s, I have a soft spot for the Land Cruiser, because I had one when I lived in Nigeria for a year. For the Dakar Classic, I was aware of its solid qualities, but unluckily I managed to belie its reputation by breaking parts on two occasions. For the first setback, I didn't see a hollow and we tipped into it, so I broke an axel. The whole team worked miracles to find spare parts in the local scrapyards. The upside of the story was that we ended up in the broom wagon until three o'clock in the morning, and that, too, gave us a taste of the adventure we'd come for”. Indeed, the Compagnie Saharienne's mechanics have had to put in a few extra hours due to Olivier's exploits. But Arnaud Delmas-Marsalet has total confidence in his cars, and loves to tell their stories: “The HZJ 78 DKR is, in my opinion, the most solid 4x4 ever. The ones we have here have had a first life, because as a Toyota importer, I sold a fleet of them to the Dakar organisers, who used them for ten years as ‘Charlies’ (the vehicles that move between the intermediate points) and which were systematically used for reconnoitring. So, they all have done around 100,000 kilometres on the rally's tracks. Now we're giving them a second life on the Classic, because they have the look of the cars from the first Paris-Dakar rallies, and above all they have the advantage of being robust. This allows people with no experience to start on the Dakar with maximum peace of mind. We've called them ‘dromedaries’, which suits them very well because they have the same stamina, they're at ease in the dunes, and it's an animal that we like”.
In one of the three 'dromedaries' lining up for the Dakar Classic, another pair of first-timers has set up camp, with an unusual pedigree on the bivouac. Thierry Varlat and Guillaume Gelée are both former soldiers and share the driving duties. The latter spent a long time as a test pilot on fighter aircraft such as the Mirage 2000 and Rafal, and is happy to make comparisons: “Working in a car crew is a lot like flying in a fighter plane. It requires a great deal of coordination and understanding of each other's questions and answers. It's not the same speed, but it's the same rhythm, the same intensity. In a fighter plane, the reference is the location of the mission on a map. And here we're leaving the usual references behind and adopting new ones, namely the boxes in the roadbook”.
When exploring the landscape of the Compagnie Saharienne, you soon come across Lucas, to whom his father Arnaud passed on his passion for Toyotas and the desert. So much so that the 26-year-old, who graduated from a top business school, decided to devote himself to it: “I was lucky enough to go to the desert at a very early age, the first time when I was 5. And I was soon behind the wheel, on my father's lap at 7, then on my own at 9. And now I've turned it into something professional. We get up every morning not knowing what's going to happen to us during the day, but we enjoy finding solutions. We're very happy with our 'dromaderies'. They're not the fastest but they're probably the bravest”.