Lawrence Hacking of Georgetown, reporting by satellite telephone from deepest South America, says the 2011 Dakar Rally could possibly return to Africa.
Hacking, who became the first Canadian on a motorcycle to finish what’s called the world’s most gruelling rally, was knocked out of this year’s Dakar on its second day in his quest to become to first Canadian to finish on four wheels.
As wheels.ca correspondent Larry Tate reported earlier this week (you can read his account by clicking here), Hacking and co-driver Christian Gerouard of Ottawa (driving a Mason Motorsports prorunner chassis, powered by a 1.9-litre Volkswagen turbodiesel with a five-speed Toyota transmission), were the victims of a bizarre mechanical failure that turned out to be repairable but not within the time allowed to make it to the checkpoints at the end of the day.
Althought he was out of the event, Hacking told Tate: "We are now going to follow the rally, support the Canadian bike riders and learn as much as possible about what is takes to finish this beast."
And following the rally he was when he telephoned me Friday afternoon from Antofagasta, Chile, where the seventh stage had just been completed.
“There’s a huge difference between the Dakar in Africa and the Dakar in South America,” he said. “It’s much more structured, for instance. In Africa, there’s a great sense of adventure that’s not evident here. In Africa, you mostly sleep in tents, for instance.
“In this Dakar (which started in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and will loop through the mountains and deserts of Chile before ending up back in Buenos Aires at the middle of the month), I was able to read my email last night and I went shopping in a mall. Most of the drivers are sleeping in hotels and showering in hot water. This has all the creature comforts, which is not the case in Africa.”
That’s when Hacking dropped his observation about the location.
“I can’t quote the fellow but I was told by one of the organizers – and people connected with the rally are talking about it – that the rally might return to Africa next year. I’d say there’s a 50-50 chance.”
Of course, the Dakar was cancelled abruptly right at the last moment two years ago because of terrorism threats in Africa. It moved to Argentina and Chile last year and this is its second running in that region.
“They wouldn’t go back to Senegal again,” Hacking said. “It it went back to Africa, the rally (Hacking said it would always be known as the Dakar, regardless of where the rally is held) would likely start in Tunisia and head east toward Egypt.”
Hacking said despite good intentions, he really didn’t have a chance when this year's rally started.
His small operation “was like taking a pea shooter to a gunfight. We have to be better prepared in future – we have to test more, for starters – and have more technical support and financial support.”
He said that on the night before our phone call, “I had a tour of (NASCAR driver) Robby Gordon’s operation and it’s there you see the level of support that’s required to do this rally properly.”
Hacking said most of the professional teams have large crews “that lets the driver step out of the car and the crew take over. I have good volunteer help but we’re lacking in resources, financial and otherwise.”
But he said he wouldn’t have missed this rally for the world.
“It’s a great experience just being a part of it,” he said. “It’s important to learn as much as you can in order to go home and build interest and develop a long-term plan to tackle this thing the right way.”
Incidentally, the Associated Press is reporting that Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres had extended their leads after the seventh stage of the rally, a 370-mile leg through the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.
VW driver Sainz finished third in Friday’s stage, 4 minutes, 21 seconds behind winning teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah. Sainz leads Al-Attiayah by 11:03 overall.
Two-time motorbike champion Despres won the stage on his KTM, 29 seconds ahead of defending champ and teammate Marc Coma. Despres leads Coma by 1:06:50 overall.
Italian motorcyclist Luca Manca remained in hospital in critical condition a day after sustaining life-threatening head injuries in the sixth stage.