The 41st edition of Dakar Rally is officially underway in South America, and the UAE’s solo representative, UAE and Arab Champion Mohammed Al Balooshi is set for almost 10 days of grueling racing across the rough and challenging Peruvian geography. After the ceremonial start ramp celebrated by the Pacific Ocean, and in front of the nearly 100,000 aficionados who filled the Dakar Village and its surrounding streets in an attempt to take a first glance at the competitors gathering in Peru’s capital for this event, the action moved out of the capital to kickstart the adventure.
The first stage of the race had competitors heading south with a long road section, followed by a relatively short and very technical special stage. Day 1 of the competition, which joined the city of Lima with Pisco in the Ica region, served as just an appetizer of what is anticipated to be the most technical Dakar in history and showed the excited competitors a little bit of the beauty the country has to offer, as well as a few samples of the dangers hiding behind every corner, every broken dune, every rocky riverbed… Tricky navigation completed the scenery, to make a day in which competitors had to adjust fast to get in rhythm for the next big challenges stage 2 will bring.
Mohammed Al Balooshi, who is the most successful and celebrated Arab Cross-Country Rally rider of all time, also had a taste of the other bitter flavor Dakar has always in stock: mechanical failure. His Husqvarna 450 Rally experienced some technical problems during the liaison, with faulty petrol pump. One of the biggest challenges for motorcycles when racing long distance races such as this one is autonomy, is being just a motorcycle, how to carry enough petrol to be able to complete days of over 500 kilometers limiting the number of stops for refueling. The factories have done a great work in surrounding the bike’s frame with several petrol tanks, successfully increasing the volume (and weight) of carburant competitors take with them, so basically almost every plastic surface we see on the main body of the bike is in reality a petrol deposit, intercommunicated with the other deposits and the engine to keep the flow of petrol constant and the engine running. The Emirati champion’s deposits were not “talking” to each other correctly, and as a result he suffered difficulties with the petrol flow which costed him a headache, and precious time. The team got quickly involved and guided Balooshi on the needed adjustments, so he could get back on the road and continue without major consequences.
The first day put then Balooshi to battle among the dunes, which is somehow a familiar terrain for the Emirati star having had the UAE desert as his playground all his life, but yet, the desert is mysterious, tricky, and always dangerous. Every dune is different from the other, every type of sand is different from the previous one, elements like temperature and humidity can dramatically change the surface, and of course visibility changes every second deep inside the desert, deleting shapes, edges, and the full sense of volume the moment the sun goes up. This is one of the big dangers, when the sun is high, the desert becomes almost a flat surface to the naked eye, which without shadows and at high speed, is uncapable of seeing the edges of the dunes properly, making it sometimes very difficult, particularly for motorcycle and quad riders, to judge the level of danger of the dunes they are heading towards to. The event organizers don’t make it easier either including hidden way points of very difficult access, and all these elements contribute as well to making Dakar the toughest race on the planet, one that only the brave will dare to enter.
Upon his arrival to the first bivouac in Pisco, Mohammed Al Balooshi recapped on the first day of competition by saying “even though the stage was a bit short compared to standard rally race days, it was full of challenges. It was very technical and fast, as we rode at an average of 100 km per hour, with peaks of nearly 150. This is just the beginning, we have 9 more days to go, so I preferred to ride smart and do not take unnecessary risks. I chose to play it safe rather than pushing harder, and risk too much on day one”.
Dakar will resume for Stage 2 “Pisco-San Juan de Marcona” very early in the Peruvian morning. A total of 541 participants set out on this epic annual adventure and, on the second day of competition, motorcycles will start behind the cars. This intervention to the standard start style will bring a new full load of challenges not only because the super-powerful cars in the front completely destroy the terrain at their pass, revealing rocks and leaving deep traces in mud and riverbeds which can be mortal traps for the motorcycles behind them, but also because with the huge number of traces they leave behind, the terrain and navigation become even trickier.
Mohammed Al Balooshi will be the 39th rider on the route for the 553km’s of racing in day 2, as per his standing in the overall classification.
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