Scenic cityscape of downtown Toronto Ontario Canada during a sunny day
Lawrence Hacking of Georgetown became the first Canadian to finish the Dakar Rally when he rode his motorcycle across the finish line in 2001. Today, he writes about two men from Montreal who last weekend became the first Canadians to finish the rally in a car.
After spending two weeks competing in the 33rd annual Dakar Rally behind the wheel of his Desert Warrior off-road vehicle, I asked driver David Bensadoun how he felt emotionally.
The 42-year-old Montreal native summed up his feelings succinctly and without hesitation: “Proud, grateful — and tired.”
Last Sunday, he and his co-driver, Patrick Beaule, became the first Canadians to drive across the finish line of the Dakar on four wheels. I know exactly how they felt at that moment, because 11 years ago today exactly — on Jan. 21, 2001 — I rode my Honda motorcycle onto the finish podium at Lac Rose, Dakar, Senegal to become the first Canadian to complete what was then the Paris-Dakar Rally.
The same flush of emotions well up inside of me whenever I imagine what they were feeling: elation, the sense of accomplishment and the realization that you have joined one of the most exclusive clubs in the World, that of a Dakar finisher.
And to top it off, at the end of the 8,343 kilometer adventure through the South American countries of Argentina, Chile and Peru, they not only finished the rally but were classified 40th overall, out of 246 motorcycles, quads (four-wheel motorbikes), cars and trucks that started the race.
Overall winners this year were French driver Stephane Peterhansel (it was his 10th Dakar victory) and co -driver Jean-Paul Cottret in a specially prepared Mini Countryman.
The Dakar is, without a doubt, the toughest off-road race in the world. For 33 years, the Mount Everest of all motor sports events has tested humans and machines. It is one of the world’s most-watched sporting events, with more than 70 million following the rally (except in Canada, where there is no live TV and coverage generally is scarce).
But insiders know where to go to get their Dakar fix every morning. They head for the digital underground: internet forums, YouTube, Twitter and, of course, Facebook, where any number of competitors update their followers.
For Bensadoun and Beaule, their Dakar was hardly uneventful. David explains:
“We had three main concerns during the rally. We experienced an overheating engine on a four kilometer-long, sandy uphill during the notorious Fiambala stage. I watched the temperature gauge climb well past the normal 105-108 degrees Celcius. I saw 116 and began to worry. Once it hit 122 degrees, we thought we cooked the engine and pulled over.
“We decided to change the water pump, thinking it was broken. About 10 local people gathered around and watched us; one guy kept saying something in Spanish about just adding water. We spent 45 minutes, only to figure out he was right, the pump was fine. There, we learned to try the simplest solution first.”
On two other occasions, when passing or being passed, they pulled over and hit rocks. Once, they were high centred on a rock and had to use the hydraulic ram-jacking system to get off the unlikely perch, bending the steel post in the process.
“The ram wouldn’t return; it was stuck in the down position. We spent a bunch of time dismantling the entire system in order to get the ram out of the way so we could continue,” said Bensadoun.
The pair worked well together in the driver’s compartment of their U.K.-built rally car.
“I respect Patrick. He has a lot of experience, he is a great mechanic and I think I had a co-driver capable of competing at the Top Ten level,” said Bensadoun, about his partner.
“Patrick kept me in check, constantly telling me to slow down, to watch for this or that. I attribute our finish to him.”
Their most serious problem and perhaps the most amusing story was when the car ran into a ditch, stopping abruptly. Beaule had his head down and was reading the road book, as co-drivers do most of the time. As a result, his neck took the brunt of the shock.
“Pat’s neck was so sore that any movement was excruciating for him“ said Bensadoun. “We duct-taped his helmet (while he was wearing it) to his HANS device (an apparatus drivers where to restrain head movement in case of accident), then taped that to the (back of the) seat so his head wouldn’t move.”
The two came across a medical car, the doctor gave Beaule a French military-issue muscle relaxer and that mellowed him right out. “After Pat took that pill, I didn’t hear a peep out of him for four hours. He was loopy!” laughed Bensadoun.
After a visit to the medical tent and some physiotherapy that evening, Beaule was 70 per cent back to normal. The day after that, he had fully recovered.
The Team Aldo Racing Desert Warrior came through the ordeal relatively unscathed. The car’s builder and support car, Rally Raid International, will rebuild the rally car to make it ready for its next challenge. However, Bensadoun isn’t sure if he wants to take another run at the Dakar.
When I asked what his plans were at this juncture he said: “All things considered, I had a great time. I am proud of what we accomplished, grateful for having the time and support of my wife, family and having a successful business that provides me with the resources to do these types of things, and tired because the Dakar is a lot of work.”
Team Aldo Racing also raised more than $200,000 for CANFAR, a charity that battles aids in Africa.
Lawrence Hacking’s book, To Dakar and Back, is widely available. The book documents his Dakar experiences and is a published by ECW Press. www.lawrencehacking.com
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