In Saturday’s Toronto Star Wheels section, I wrote a feature on Georgetown’s Lawrence Hacking, who – in 2001 – became the first Canadian to finish the dangerous and gruelling Paris-Dakar Rally.
The Dakar, as it’s now known, is as gruelling as ever but perhaps not as dangerous because the threat of terrorism was removed three years ago when the race was moved from Africa to South America.
In the article, Hacking – who did the Dakar on a motorcycle – said he hoped someday to become the first Canadian to finish the contest on four wheels.
The news today is that a fellow from Toronto driving for the Toronto-based Team Chinook is in the process of beating him to it.
Conor Malone and co-driver Tom Frank have passed the half-way point of the 15-day event that began on New Year’s day in Buenos Aires. They are still very much in contention to finish the rally; on average, fewer than half the 500-plus starters make it to the end.
On Sunday, Malone and Frank started the day in 70th place in the cars class (89 were still in contention at that point) but were soon running 87th and two hours behind because of a leaking radiator that they managed to fix at the first check point.
Later, during a special stage through sand dunes, many of the cars got lost and missed a check point and had to double back, leaving Team Chinook in 70th place again at end of day.
Overall, Marc Coma of Spain was leading the motorbike division, Tomas Maffei of Argentina was ahead in quads (four-wheel motorbikes), perennial world rally champion Carlos Sainz of Spain was in front in cars and Firdaus Kapirov of Russia was leading in trucks.
While the top professionals, supported by multi-million-dollar sponsorships, contend for victories at the Dakar, the majority of the more than 500 entries are made up of non-professionals whose prime motivation is simply to get through it.
Several years ago Malone, an electrician in the construction industry, and his Toronto friend, Glenna Chestnutt, who works in insurance, decided to enter the Dakar. That they had next to no experience was of little consequence; they were both in their mid-40s, they had a dream and they were going to go for it.
And if they could raise money for a couple of charities, Prostate Cancer Canada (Malone lost his father to the disease) and the Minimally Invasive Surgery program at Toronto East General Hospital, so much the better.
Since then, they’ve secured sponsorships, launched a website, embarked on public relations campaigns to draw attention to their adventure and made arrangements to produce a documentary film and to publish a book on their participation in the rally.
Most important, they contracted with a U.S. company, Colorado Sand Cars, to build their Corvette engine-powered Chevrolet vehicle. When Chestnutt, who originally intended to co-drive and navigate during the Dakar, was injured in a ski accident last year, she stepped back from the rally car to drive the support truck and her place was taken by the car’s builder, Tom Frank. One of his employees at Colorado Sand Cars, Troy Dees, replaced Frank as chief mechanic.
As the saying goes, so far, so good. They have gone from the start in Buenos Aires to the west coast of Chile and now are on their way back to the Argentine capital. Keep your fingers crossed.
Hacking has been following their race and is cheering them on to make it to the finish.
In an email to me last night, Hacking said: "To get as far as they have is an incredible accomplishment. If they finish, which looks possible, it will be very good for everyone who is thinking of doing the Dakar.
"I really hope everything stays together to the end. It has been a tough go for them with at least one night spent in the desert and lots of repairs done, according to their twitter posts."
And that’s a key. To follow their progress, and to cheer them on, go to www.teamchinook.com where there is everything you would ever want to know about them, including links to their Twitter account.