WHAT A RACE: Despite heartache and huge disappointments, the Toyota SA ultimately delivered three teams within the top 10! Image: QuickPic
Argentina - Dakar 2017, described by many regulars as the most difficult since the iconic race moved to South America, will not be fondly remembered.
Not only is this on account of the adverse weather, leading to the event being shortened by two days due to the “worst floods to hit Bolivia and northern Argentina in 40 years”.
Stage 6 and 9 of the marathon event were waived after a colossal landslide caused by torrential rains and the organisers were also forced to shorten stages 5, 7 and 8.
'Would turn in his grave'
And while the super long Stage 9 was cancelled, competitors still had to trek 600km in extreme weather conditions to get to the start of Stage 10. All these elements obviously played havoc with event logistics, no matter how careful it was planned before the event.
Complicating matters further was a decision by sporting director Marc Coma to change the navigation format for this year, necessitated more reliance on the road book.
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Some competitors, such as Dutch regular Hans Stacey, a previous truck category winner and veteran of 12 Dakar Rallies, were very outspoken about the organisation of the event, and criticised the Bolivian leg in particular. Stacey said the whole rally was badly organised and became too commercial, making competitors drive to La Paz only “for the money”.
Dakar founder Thierry Sabine “would turn in his grave”, he added, as in his day it was about the sport, and not about making money. “It's the worst organisation I've ever had in one rally, even in a small rally,” Stacey exclaimed.
The navigation format and road book also came under fire.
Leading competitors like KTM factory rider Matthias Walkner questioned the validity and accuracy of the old-school navigation rules while seasoned navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz, co-driver for Giniel de Villiers, openly implied the road book was in many instances “very inaccurate or just simply wrong”.
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Rob Howie, navigating for this year’s top rookie Conrad Rautenbach, said “the road book was less accurate, the navigation was really tricky”, and with the addition of secret waypoints, it was more of a challenge.
Other top-notch navigators such as Peugeot’s Jean-Paul Cottret (with Peterhansel), Mini’s Michel Périn (guiding Miko Hirvonen) and Lucas Cruz (with Carlos Sainz for Peugeot) also frequently lost their bearings because of navigation mistakes.
This compromised the event further, turning it into a lottery, and due to this unpredictability Dakar followers worldwide started losing interest in the outcome of the event.
Where to from here?
So, given these detrimental influences (also leading to diminishing entry numbers), what needs to be done?
Well, as last year’s event was also prejudiced by extreme weather conditions, perhaps Mr Coma and the ASO should start heeding the unpredictable weather patterns in Bolivia and northern Argentina this time of the year.
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Given the adverse climate and lack of infrastructure in Bolivia maybe it’s also time to reconsider the prolonged periods spent at high altitude, as it does not really contribute to the event; rather the opposite.
Perhaps it is now time to return to Chile and Peru, utilising the vast Atacama Desert with its more predictable weather patterns.
And if this is deemed impractical due to political or environmental concerns, why not investigate the possibility to take the Dakar back to Africa; in particular Southern Africa?
Besides the logistical advantages (shorter distances from France, a smaller time difference, guaranteeing better TV and media coverage) and burgeoning local interest, Africa is still the Dakar’s natural habitat.
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So, MM Lavigne and Coma, how does an extreme route through Botswana, Namibia and South Africa sound? It will for sure generate major interest, it will be spectacular, and it will certainly bring back some of the original flavour of the event.
Just think about it…