The day of rest in the Dakar Rally offer competitors a pause in the race against time. But is it really a day of rest? By Christophe Barriere-Varju
Previously on Dream Racer Dakar Insights
- Dakar Rally: From Sand Nightmares to Lack of Oxygen Nightmares
- The Origins of the ‘Dakar Spirit’
- Dakar Rally Navigation – How Do They Do It?
- Could You Race the Dakar Rally?
- How to Start Racing the Dakar Rally?
First of all, let’s separate the assisted competitors, the somewhat assisted ones, and the DIY racers.
On one hand you have the true factory racers that have entire teams looking at everything for them so that they can concentrate purely on the racing. For these competitors the day of rest represent an opportunity to head to a nice hotel in town, do a bit of sight seeing and come back into the bivouac later that day all relaxed, shaved, wearing nice clothes full of sponsors signage, and signing autographs along the way. These racers have one goal in mind, race and represent the sponsors that brought them there.
The somewhat assisted competitors are racers with a small team, a single dedicated mechanic, or a shared mechanic that would service in general up to 2 or 3 motorbikes. For these racers, the rest day could vary from the overnight hotel stay to staying in the bivouac that night and giving a hand to the team and their mechanic the next day.
Finally, you have the DIY kind, here I am referring to racers that perform their own mechanic, whether they have signed up for sponsored malle moto and winning prize, or have opted for a reliable team to carry their own box of tools & spares. For the DIY racers, there is one important element not to waste, and that is time! A trip into town is out of the question. Others would opt for a night in a nice bed to be fully recovered the next day. What is the best option? It depends.
Personally I have done both, gone into town, ate at a nice restaurant and slept in a hotel on a proper bed. In the film Dream Racer where I was my own DIY mechanic in the Dakar Rally I opted to save any previous minutes and stayed within the bivouac as every minute counted.
Out of these two options, I prefer staying in the bivouac. This allowed me to stay within the ‘rhythm of the race’ and to not lose focus. I also continued with my regular sleep pattern, and in my case I kept sleeping the same amount of 4-5 hours a night as I had in the previous day. I felt that not disturbing this pattern was best to stay mentally focused on the tasks at hand. During rest day I think I even managed to get my second shower. Trust me, 10 minutes shower every day vs. 10 minutes of extra sleep during a stage? Sleep wins!
The rest day obviously allows you to look after a few more things than just preparing your bike for the next day. When I raced the Dakar Rally in Africa in 2007, we had the rest day in Atar, Mauritania I gave my racing gear to a young African girl to wash everything in town. She needed the work so I gave her everything and she came back early in the afternoon after all had dried, all folded and handed them to me. I paid her for her help and got my gears ready for week two.
I still remember some of the team members thinking I was crazy to give my racing gear to a complete stranger. But I grew up in Africa and I know how things worked, so I was not worried at all. I also stayed in the bivouac. It also allowed my shared mechanic, Max, to sleep in that day, I think he slept for 13 hours straight, he definitely needed it. Africa was a tough gig as a mechanic.
In the 2009 Dakar Rally I opted for going into town, had a nice dinner and slept in a bed. But because I was also reporting for SBS television back in Australia, I found myself drawn into emailing images and writing stories which in the end did not really help me in getting more rest. It also got me off rhythm a bit whilst Steve, my mechanic was working on the bike in the bivouac and I was feeling guilty for not helping out.
In the film Dream Racer, the rest day was in Antofagasta which formerly was part of Bolivia and was captured by Chile in the War of the Pacific in 1879-83. Because I was my own mechanic, time was critical, I stayed in the Bivouac. To me that was the best option, not just because I had to do everything myself, but because it helped me stay focus.
From a mechanic’s perspective, the additional hours in the day allow you to do a full check up on your machine, you might even get a 15 min shower and a shave too. You get to regroup, re-strategize for the following 2-3 days as to when to push and when to look after the bike, knowing what alternate maintenance you must do based on the length of the day and the type of terrain.
One thing racers must keep in mind though, is that generally the day before and the days right after the rest day are often the ‘breaking days’ where the organisation tries to break your spirit with really tough stages.
In the 40th Edition of the Dakar Rally, the rest day is followed by a marathon stage where racers will not be able to access their assistance at night. Apart from what they are able to carry, and get help from one another, this is the only assistance they will be able to get.
A simple mistake, a damaged wheel or tyre, a burned mousse, a broken handlebar from a small crash could have dramatic circumstances and could spell the end of the rally.
Factory riders that have support riders will often take parts from their support riders’ bike. The role of the support rider would be to minimize the damage on their bike, tyres etc whilst the top team rider is on the attack. Then at night, swap the destroyed tyres and other parts with the support rider bike.
The DIY racers don’t have that luxury and must manage the full two days, but then again, if you are a DIY racer, a marathon stage is not much different than a regular stage!