Diagram the route of a Dakar rally It is not easy at all, especially with the limitations caused by the coronavirus pandemic. However, the organizers of the demanding test have worked during these months on several fronts so that the itinerary of the 2021 edition, which will take place from January 3 to 15 in Saudi Arabia, be ready to be retraced.
“In exceptional years, exceptional devices. The reconnaissance of the route is usually staggered over several visits, which also allows more time for reflection and recovery. On this occasion, the deployment seems more typical of a special forces mission ", point David castera, general director of the race.
“For almost a month and a half, 25 people in total, divided into three teams, inspected the roads, tracks and dunes of Saudi Arabia. A first convoy definitively validates the route conceived on the maps, while, in a second pass several days later, all the notes of the roadbook are drawn up. Finally, a third team is in charge of adapting the layout for the Dakar Classic formula cars, almost newcomers to the test, if I may say so. The context imposes a constant rhythm of concentration, but there is also room for improvisation and coexistence ”, adds the former motorcyclist and former navigator.
A special of 400 to 500 kilometers is equivalent to a day and a half of work for the team that opens the recognitions. The doubts and setbacks are almost constant as satellite images are not always accurate enough and the task force finds itself on insurmountable terrain.
To optimize the time spent on the tour, the team lives following the rhythm of the sun. It starts out cool, with an average of 10 ° on the thermometer. The sun gives 35 ° at its highest and you have to take advantage of the last rays to set up a makeshift camp in the middle of nowhere.
In the race or in the recognitions, it is already known that the Dakar always has a setback in store for everyone. Running aground while crossing difficult dunes, going around the bell or having a breakdown can turn into a delay of two or three hours.
Of course, the skills of the group complement each other and the roles are distributed effectively when it comes to teamwork. Jean-Paul Cottret, known as “Paulo”, brings his experience as a seven-time Dakar champion co-driver to confirm Castera's decisions. The olympic archery champion, Sebastien flute, pilot of the second 4 × 4, he gets into the stove at the right time and masters freeze-dried gastronomy like no one else ...
For Castera, the days end with a work session in front of his computer to update all the indications and introduce the route changes that were decided on the route. The roadbook team, meanwhile, patiently waits hundreds of kilometers away to receive the valuable itinerary and get down to work.
But something that does not change in any of the teams that perform the difficult task of putting together the itinerary is to close the day with a nightly soiree by the fire.