Route 40 Challenge: The Argentine mini Dakar

The DR40 is the most extreme race in our country and one of the most difficult in the world. So much so that its participants compare it to the legendary competition.

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The arrival of Dakar Rally to this part of the world in 2009 It caused the cross country tests to take more momentum in our country. Before this happened the different editions of the now defunct For the Pampas Rally they quenched the thirst for adventure of a group of enthusiasts of this discipline. With the landing of the landing of the toughest race in the world that frenzy grew and motivated the creation of the Argentine Cross Country Rally Championship (CARCC), a tournament that has the endorsement of the Automobile Club Argentino and that since then it has been held on about four dates a year with some exceptions.

All DR40 participants on the starting ramp in San Miguel de Tucumán.

The most important CARCC test is the Route 40 Challenge, which takes the name of the National Route 40 that unites Argentina in a south-north direction. Unlike the other presentations on the calendar, which take place over a weekend, the DR40 is disputed over five grueling stages. Such is the relevance that was gained in this time, that in addition to being valid for the national contest, the 2018 version also awarded points for the South American of the specialty, the FIM World Cup and, in addition, it was rated as Dakar Series, something that assured private Argentine pilots to have bonuses in their registration for the Dakar 2019, which will take place from January 6 to 17 only in Peru.

This year's edition of the DR40 was contested over more than 1.421 kilometers of specials. Took off in San Miguel de Tucuman and then made a base in the Catamarca cities of Belén y Tinogasta, in La Riojana Villa Union and in San Juan, where it ended. The itinerary included all types of terrain, including a passage through the fearsome dunes of Fiambalá (Catamarca).

Julio Estanguet, invincible on 4 × 4 quads, in action at Fiambalá.

The fruits of the Dakar decade in the region were appreciated in each of the DR40 camps. Argentine teams today have structures and an organization that allows them to be at the level of other recognized teams worldwide. “Over the years this race became very professional and, in addition, it managed to maintain the spirit of the Dakar with very similar road maps. Recreate in five days everything the Dakar does in two weeks ”, explained Javier Pizzolito, who twice won the DR40 in motorcycles and is currently part of the team 7240 Team.

Precisely, this requirement makes all the participants affirm that the DR40 is indeed a "Mini Dakar" and that is why most use it as a training before the legendary race. Such was the case of the official teams KTM, represented by the Australian Toby Price and the Austrian Matthias walkner; Honda, with the Argentine Kevin Benavides, the Portuguese Paulo Goncalves, the American Ricky brabec And French Mathias bellino, and Husqvarna, with the Chilean Pablo Quintanilla"Although this time there is a difference in terrain between the Desafío Ruta 40 and the next Dakar, which will be held almost entirely on sand, it is good for us to stay in rhythm and try some things that we can later use in January", assured the Spanish Jordi Villadoms, KTM Sporting Director.

But not only international structures participated. There were also several compatriots who are regular protagonists of the Dakarian adventure such as Jeremías González Ferioli, Nico Cavigliasso, Pablo Copetti, Daniel Mazzucco y Julio Estanguet, in quadricycles; Y Sebastian Halpern y Juan Manuel Silva placeholder image, in cars.


The hardness of this DR40 could already be verified at the beginning. Kevin Benavides, who started the test as a candidate for victory, abandoned after covering the first 60 kilometers of the first stage between San Miguel de Tucumán and Belén. The Salteño suffered a fall that caused a head injury and could not continue on the recommendation of the doctors. This desertion reduced his chances of fighting for the FIM World Cup since after his triumph in Atacama (Chile) he had arrived in the first place of the tournament sharing the honor with Quintanilla.

Kevin Benavides quit prematurely.

The second day between Belén and Tinogasta was also lean for the Honda team with the Bellino's spectacular accident, who had a serious back injury that included five broken vertebrae and crushing of the bone marrow (see separate). Gonzáles Ferioli, who was behind the Frenchman, was shocked by the situation after being the first to help him. “He wouldn't stop screaming, he said he couldn't feel his legs. I stayed with him until the doctors came. I am a person who is very impressed and I looked bad after seeing him like that. My pressure dropped and I continued as best I could until the end of the stage. I just wanted to finish, I didn't care about the times. When something like this happens you can't help but think that it could have happened to you too ... ", said the Cordovan with consternation. Another example of the harshness of this day was Goncalves' phrase once he arrived at the Tinogasta camp: "It was the hardest stage I ever raced in my life."

The difficulties of those first two days also took their toll on Gaston Gonzalez, who decided to withdraw from the race and, in addition, gave up going back to competing in quadricycles. “I was not enjoying it and the token fell on me. Everything arrives and today was the day. I lived a unique experience. I will continue running, but in another category ", admitted who came to win a stage of the Dakar.

Sebastián Halpern won between cars.


After several days of great intensity the glory in motorcycles was left for Goncalves, who thus achieved his second success in this race after the one achieved in 2015. Behind came Price and Quintanilla, who took the last step of the podium thanks to a penalty to Walkner. For many it was a strategy to favor the trans-Andean in his fight for the FIM World Championship since Husqvarna belongs to KTM ...

“I'm happy because I came up with the idea of ​​adding kilometers to find a rhythm and I find myself with victory. I think the key was in the fourth stage when it was my turn to open the track and I didn't waste too much time. In the last one I tried to manage that advantage, but I think I relaxed too much because Toby (Price) got too close to me ”, Goncalves stated about his second hit at DR40. With Kevin out of the race, the best Argentine exponent was his brother Luciano, which runs for KTM. He came in sixth after running fifth in the early stages.

Nico Cavigliaso won in Chile on 4 × 2 quads and repeated victory in the DR40.

Among the quadricycles, the victories went to Córdoba. In 4 × 2 Cavigliasso (Yamaha) won and in 4 × 4, Estanguet (Can Am). “These long races are always difficult because anything can knock you out or cause a significant delay. That is why I am so happy to win it ”, Nico said, who had just won the Atacama Rally. While his fellow countryman noted: "The priority was to get a good rhythm because I am in the process of returning after an injury that left me out of the activity for a long time."

In cars Halpern was also unstoppable and he won again as he did in 2016. "It was one of the toughest races we had to run", summarized the cuyano, who maintained a rhythm that no rival could follow. Another who left the DR40 with a smile was Pato Silva (Can Am), which won among the UTVs (T3 class) and was also third in the overall car category. “It was an incredible week. I really enjoyed the competition "said the Chaco, who confirmed that he will be encouraged to the Dakar with this vehicle. The T1 Diesel was for the Paraguayan Andrea Lafarja (Toyota), who achieved a deserved victory after fighting for five grueling days in a race that was unknown to him.

Pato Silva ran with a UTV. It did so well that he will use that vehicle for the 2019 Dakar.

Undoubtedly, Desafío Ruta 40 already has its place well earned in the world of cross country. Everyone classifies it as a difficult race and even puts it at the height of the Dakar, even if it takes place on fewer days. A great compliment to its organizers and, above all, to those who cheer up and make it to the end.

Fate played a trick on the French Mathias bellino, who participated in the Ruta 40 Challenge as an official Honda rider. The brand had scored it in this race with the idea of ​​permanently integrating it into its structure as a backpacker for the next Dakar.

However, he suffered an accident during the second stage that had a serious consequence: he lost the mobility of his legs. Hours after undergoing an operation in Buenos Aires, the Frenchman was in charge of making his situation known through an emotional letter that he published on Instagram.

“Life did not disappoint me… After seeing all the things that I went through during my 26 years, I thought I had (almost) everything lost: I got hurt, I lost my girlfriend, I lost my team (and thus my job), I lost money , trust in me and finally I lost my mother last March. All this in just eight months ”, described Bellino.

“I spent all this time trying to rebuild myself with the help of my friends and I thought I had already been through the hardest. I began to have new goals, new dreams, and so everything took shape again. He was living exactly what he wanted and was beginning to be happy again. But now I lose my legs practicing what I loved ”, He added.

“I came to this race in the best possible condition and keeping my dreams. So I don't regret anything. Now is the beginning of a new life, although to be honest I don't know how I'm going to adapt to it ”, culminated.

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Diego durruty

Journalist with 30 years of experience. Worked in magazines STROKE, The graphic, Coequipier y Only TC, on the Internet sites SportsYa!, y and on the radios Rock pop y He covered the Dakar rally for the German agency dpa. He currently drives Two Daring Guys, a car magazine that is broadcast on Tuesdays from 18 to 19 by; is editor of motorsport in Red Bull Argentina, columnist on the show WorldSport (AM Splendid) and in Surf & Rock FM.  He is also a teacher in SPORTS. Now you can read it on his blog:

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