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Gearing up to get dirty at Dakar

Published January 3, 2013

The 35th edition of the Dakar Rally, one of the world’s toughest motorsports events, sets off from Lima, Peru today and concludes in Santiago, Chile on Jan. 20.

Driver Robby Gordon has set his sights on a podium finish after his disqualification last year due to a technical infraction.

His main competition will be 10-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel of France and the X-Raid Mini team. Peterhansel’s teammates: Nani Roma (Spain), Krzysztof Holowczyc (Poland) and Leonid Novitskiy (Russia) are all considered favourites.

Previous winners Nasser Al Attiyah and Carlos Sainz, are serious threats this year: the new teammates are in U.S.-built off-road cars supported by Qatar. The 2012 Dakar third place finisher, South African Giniel De Villiers, is probably in the best position to unseat the Minis.

As for two-wheelers, last year’s winner, KTM rider Cyril Despres, will be challenged by a new teammate, American Kurt Caselli, who replaces injured rival Marc Coma at the last minute. Both riders will have their hands full with Honda factory-supported team led by desert-racing veteran Johnny Campbell. Husqvarna and Yamaha have also fielded strong, multinational teams.

Montreal-based David Bensadoun will attempt a second finish in his new U.K.-based Desert Warrior car. Patrick Beaulé will try to become the first Canadian to finish the Dakar Rally on both two and four-wheels after he successfully navigated for Bensadoun last year. Beaulé is aboard a 450cc KTM Rally Replica. Vancouver Island native Don Hatton will once again attempt to finish a Dakar rally after many attempts, riding a Husqvarna 450.

The Dakar Rally finishes in Santiago, Chile on Jan. 20.

BMW GS Trophy results

Last month, BMW’s GS Trophy, a cross-country motorcycle rally, wrapped up in Patagonia, between Chile and Argentina. The race drew 45 competitors from 19 different countries.

I was one of the 15 journalists invited to cover the event. I accompanied the three Canadian competitors — Darius Rylander and Adrian Tobler of Alberta and Quebec’s Marc Andre Octeau. Early on, the Canadians held down fifth place but the GS Trophy is all about endurance and patience.

I found myself on both sides of the story: on the fourth day, the Canadian team suffered a setback when Octeau badly injured himself. Rules state the attending journalist must fill in for an injured competitor. I was now in the hot seat and the pressure was on me to maintain our position.

Patagonia is home to some incredible roads (mostly gravel) and perfectly suited for the F800. The scenery was truly breathtaking; often we rode in the shadow of snow-capped, active volcanoes and the photo ops seemed to get better at every turn. Riding conditions were dusty until the fifth and sixth day, when it rained as we crossed back into Chile from Argentina over the Andes. Wet conditions made the riding even better — the gravel roads became tacky and ideal for power-sliding.

Challenges were quite difficult. Teams had to lift three BMW 800s over a large log, push them through creek beds, charge through a rainforest and race in a beach of deep sand.

The final day found us back at the start point for two final challenges; one was an obstacle course in pouring rain. Adrian rode the motorcycle while Darius and I guided him through. We drew the last starting position, and by that time the course was a gooey mess. Sometimes the luck of the draw can figure into the overall results, in the final test we dropped down in the results due to a strong finish by the U.S. squad. Ultimately, we finished seventh out of the 15 teams. The Germans finished first, ahead of the French in a closely fought battle.

Ontario-based BMW motorcycle owners can attempt to qualify for the next GS Trophy at Horseshoe Valley Resort this coming June. See www.bmwcanada.ca for more details.

In 2001, Lawrence Hacking of Georgetown, Ont. became the first Canadian ever to finish the Dakar Rally. He is a motorcycle racer, journalist and author. Wheels@thestar.ca

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