2009 Dakar Coverage Sunday - Chapter 2

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By Thom Cannell
Detroit Bureau
The Auto Channel

Sunday January 4, 2009; It is now 3:25 PM Dakar Rally time and defined by Greenwich Mean Time. We are driving due south to San Antonio Oueste, and then joining a major highway bound for Puerto Madryd.

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Temperatures are above 35C, or very hot and the winds are above kite flying speeds. That has been good for the riders and driers, sweeping away gritty sand and clearing vision. Unless and until overtaken, then it becomes dicey. At the finish of today’s special stage an X Raid rally car and a motorcycle contested the lead even crossing the finish line!

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As yet we know no results, but as Nasser Al Attiyah started first and Carlos Sainz crossed the finish line ahead of him, it’s easy to believe Sainz is in the lead. We will know result soon, and you can always check Dakar.com or Volkswagen-motorsport.com.

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We, all of us including those driving our Volkswagen Touareg 2 press vehicles are rock stars. Argentineans take our pictures, ask for autographs (we journalists?) and swarm around our trucks as eagerly as they greet drivers. This started from the beginning of the event, Sunday on Avendia 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires and continues in every town we enter. Crowds line the routes waving t-shirts, flags, and banners, offering lines of low-fives to anyone up to the arm jarring. It is exhilarating.

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On the “piste” or racetrack, Argentines are more than friendly, kind and helpful. They genuinely want to know how an American sees their country and people. My reply is "wonderfully open and kind people, startling and hot countryside (mucho calor!), good wines, and terrific beef."

Connecting the special stage to our bivouac, we continue on highway 35 out of Santa Rosa, turning onto the narrower 154 towards Colonia Carolina. After the dusty back road spits out most of its attackers, we gather up and begin the journey to Puerto Madryd. We continuye on Highway 154 towards Rio Colorado, a right turn to the West on 22 for 30-040 km and then south on 251 towards General Conesa where we join Highway 3 at San Antonio Oueste. From there we will make our final 256 km to Puerto Madryd, our bivouac, and miraculously another night in a hotel instead of a sleeping bag. Perhaps we will have air conditioning and beer, as well as Internet access so I can share today’s events.

As we drive these long segments of asphalt, memories of middle school geography book photos in muddy black and white surface. Gauchos, cattle, endless stretches of pampas, a memory promptly reformed by maps that show Argentina as diced and checkered as Arizona or Texas, which it resembles. On every side are spindly shrubs, stunted trees, and yellowed grasses eking out some kind of life in an arid countryside of grit and gravel. Parched and sun blasted, any desert racer in America would feel at home.

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Still we see crowds, smaller now in the middle of the range, but they cheer us and wave.

As we approach within 100 km of the port city, skies darken ahead, a wall of increasing darkness with tendrils of rain falling somewhere ahead. Wind becomes a menace for bikers and quads; even our massive SUV is buffeted. I am glad the bivouac will be near, and that we won’t be sleeping in the rain and mud that likely awaits us. The soil is like pancake makeup and, rather than absorb moisture, seals and clumps, sticky and slick. Rain begins to hit the windscreen light patter of individual drops but the ground shows no sign of wetness.


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