After a grueling 9,000km the winners of the 40th Edition of the Dakar Rally are the ones that have made the least amount of navigational mistakes, that have minimized the mechanical failures, and that have maintained consistency throughout the whole event. By Christophe Barriere-Varju
It really does not matter whether you finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 80th – that is just an overall ranking against others. What’s important is that you have to be satisfied with your performance throughout the two weeks of racing.
When you reach the end of the Dakar Rally, what’s important is to realize the preparation you did prior to the event is responsible for 60-70% of your final position. The remaining 30-40% are the mistakes you have made during the race and how you have managed the issues and challenges you have experienced.
Physically you can only push as far as your physical preparation allows you to or risk a quick injury for going past your speed and mental limits. In the Dakar, you want to have a fairly good margin of security – for example race at 80% of your speed capabilities. That margin will decide whether you stay on the bike or not.
Mentally you must remain focused throughout the two weeks, think about your race strategy, your strong and weak points. There are many combinations possible, and a racer needs to plan ahead and use the ones that play to their strengths and his capabilities – whether they are technical, physical, or navigation.
Stay emotionally stable, remember you can’t ever recoup the time lost, all you can do is minimize the amounts of mistake that you do. Tomorrow is another day and it starts with a full reset. Nothing can be done to undo anything, you have to deal with it. Unfortunately, many racers let their emotion take over and attempt to right a wrong. This is dangerous, and I have seen many racers get hurt or worse when this happens.
Mechanically, you have to look after your machine, be gentle with it, avoid dust, mud, rocks, be kind with the clutch and shifting gears. Gears, seals, bearings are not unbreakable, they are meant to fail at some stage – but riding using smooth riding techniques, you can give them extra ‘life-insurance.’ It’s okay to lose 2 seconds slowing down when crossing a river.
The terrain is there to punish you and the bike, and it is almost the same for everyone. Ride smartly, avoid rocks, avoid overheating your motor for long period of time, ensure you ride into the wind for short distances after overheating your engine to let it cool off. The air filter, oil and oil filters are the heart and lungs of your motorbike, carry some extra air filters and change them right after the special stage, there is no need to let your engine breathe through a dirty filter for a 500km liaison. Take 10-15′ to stop at the first petrol station and clean the bike too before riding long road liasons with mud everywhere and put ‘Mr. Chance’ on your side.
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Then comes the navigation and that constant mental focus that is required to go fast and go to the right places avoiding mistakes that could cost you the entire efforts of yearly training, sacrifices, and risks taken along the 9,000+ km Dakar Rally. I remember in the Dakar in Mauritania, there was a massive sand storm at the beginning of the stage with less than 50 meters visibility. At a point there was three of us side by side, the road book said to maintain a cap of 150 degrees, but the rider on my left when left and the one on my rights went slightly right. There was 30 kilometers to cover and at the end of it we had to change cap at the base of a mountain. What do you do? stick with someone or trust your own judgement? You know the answer to that.
Finally, there is the last stage unwritten rule “do not upset the top of the classification” as a sign of respect between competitors.
The winners of the 40th Edition of the South American Dakar Rally are all these racers that have done the best they could, made the least amounts of mistakes, and are proud of what they have achieved in the race. The “only ifs” are irrelevant now, when you cross the finish line it is what it is.
Yes, the leader board say that you compete against others, but really you don’t. In the desert, you compete against yourself, one-to-one, against the elements and the rules of the race. And this is why I chose the number 121 (one-to-one) as my race number when we filmed Dream Racer as part of the Dakar Rally. Your only competitor, your only opponent…is yourself!
“IT’S AT THE EDGE OF WHO YOU ARE, THAT YOU LEARN WHO YOU CAN BE”
Factory racers, semi-privateers, privateers, self-sponsored racers, mechanics, assistants etc… you are all champions. Congratulations to all for making it to the start… and to the end.
Everyone else, come back next year…and finish the job!
If you are a Dakar Rally fan, make sure to watch 9x Award Winner Film, DREAM RACER. Dream Racer is the only film in the Dakar History to have won any awards and it is the most awarded motorcycle film in history. Available on Blu-Ray or DVD, or you can watch it On Demand right away. Additional subtitles available in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German, and Russian.