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Dakar Rally prepares to take on altitude

Text by Emmanuel VERSACE , Thibault LIEURADE

Latest update : 2009-01-02

By changing continent, pilots and their machinery have to adapt to high altitude, a new criteria in this South American edition. The Andes are going to be the real test.

By swapping continents, rally drivers this year will need to change their habits and adapt to South American specialties. On the menu, among other challenges: altitude in the South American Andean mountain range.

“They went through an intensive week in the Jura (in eastern France), where they spent their nights in atmospheric chambers enabling them to get used to the lack of oxygen,” says Dominique Serieys, team director for Repsol-Mitsubishi, of the specific training his racing drivers - among them Stéphane Peterhansel (2007 winner) and Luc Alphand (2007 runner-up) - have received so far.

Lower-performing motors

After the rocky trails, the dunes and the Argentine “rios”, competitors will have the Andean mountain chain in full view by the sixth stage. The course for the seventh, between Mendoza in Argentina and Valparaiso in Chile, includes passages at more than 3,000 metres of altitude. This will not only discomfort the drivers, it will also affect the cars.

Within altitude preparation for the new model, the Racing Lancer, has been successful. “We were able to test our motors at altitude in Morocco and in Granada to measure the differences in oxygen and they reacted well,” explains Serieys, the 1993 winner standing beside Bruno Saby.

Another possible challenge: the temperature and its impact on motors. “Over there it’s the austral summer. It can be 32°C in Buenos Aires and then 40°C et 45°C in the desert. The thin air and high temperatures will automatically reduce the performance of the motors,” adds Serieys.

The “pros”


Franck Helbert, director of Team HFP-Yamaha, had two drivers among the first ten in 2007. He talks about the South American course in comparison to the African one. “There is not a huge difference in the preparation of the pilots. The course is virtually identical to the ones we are used to competing on,” he says.

Helbert acknowledges that there will be “differences in temperature and particularly altitude – the great unknown of the course,” but he reminds readers that “these are just temporary passages in altitude.”

The course will be long both before and after the Andes. But Helbert has plenty of confidence in his men. “It’s true that they can always have respiratory problems. But our team’s pilots are pretty much all professionals. ”

Rendez-vous on January 9, the day of the seventh stage, to see the pros in action in the Andean “Cordillera”. It will surely be one of the more exotic scenes from this 'vintage' 2009.

Date created : 2008-12-29

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