Dakar, the amateur spirit of adventure
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Although the Dakar Rally constitutes a major investment even for professional racing teams, it remains a field dominated by amateurs — devotees of the sport who invest a good part of their lives for the sake of a 15-day adventure.
in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Cristobal Guerrero waited 48 years to register for the Dakar Rally. "When I was younger, my financial situation made it impossible,” he says.
“The situation improved, but by then I was responsible for my family,” he adds. Guerrero transmitted his passion to his children — two of his sons are all-terrain motorbike champions. “Now that they are big,” he says. “I can afford it.”
To race the Dakar rally is a childhood dream for any number of motorsport aficionados. And it is a dream within reach of any amateur, as long as one has 60,000 euros handy.
|Contenders have to come up with at least 60,000 euros to enter the race.|
Photo credit: Marianne Niosi
The 13,500 euros in membership fees are far from enough to compete at the holy of holies of motorised adventure sport racing.
In addition to the costs of transporting equipment and the driver, competitors also need the support of a capable engineering team that can manage the minor, and often major, damage that the machines incur over 9,000 kilometres of rugged terrain in the most famous motor rally in the world.
The hunt for sponsors
Amateurs, who represent 80% of Dakar participants, can, just like the professionals, seek out the assistance of sponsors. But soliciting help from businesses takes some real work for those who already hard at work at training, including 25 hours a week at the gym, bicycling and motorbiking.
José Sanchez Tapia succeeded in having up to 30% of his expenses financed, primarily by friends who shelled out to help him finance his dream.
Certain devotees dedicate their whole lives in the service of Dakar. “It is like a drug, it is an enormous trip,” explains Xavi Mora, an amateur competitor in 2006 who today manages Epsilon Team, a logistical and technical support team.
“The goal of the organizers is to do everything to make the course insurmountable,” he says. “As a competitor, you must overcome these obstacles. And when you arrive, it is an enormous satisfaction.”
A construction contractor in the city, he prepared for two months for the four racers with the help of Epsilon, a Catalan company that manages 35 competitors from all around the world.
|The Epsilon team is made up mostly of amateurs.|
Photo credit: Marianne Niosi.
Although Dakar constitutes a major investment even for the professionals, the industry surrounding it remains dominated by amateurs, devotees who invest heavily for the sake of a 15-day adventure.
But the amateurs do not face the same pressures as the pros. Rafa Cisco, a man in his 40s with a face etched by the sun, is taking part in his sixth Dakar Rally. The goal of any amateur is to “finish the rally, that is the whole point,” he says. “Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.”
Cisco has crossed the finish line at Dakar twice; at other races he has lost a clavicle and two engines. These small accidents won’t stop him from starting all over again and putting all of his savings in the service of all-terrain motorbike racing.
“A lot of emotion“
At Epsilon, like at all rallies, most of the competitors are amateurs. For the company, 2009 would be a great year if it achieved a 50% success rate at Dakar among its clients.
The day before departure, the drivers run through one last technical inspection with Epsilon’s two mechanics, who will follow them throughout the competition. The atmosphere is relaxed, but at 9 pm it is already time to high time to go to sleep. And as for fears? “No," Cisco says. "But a lot of emotion.”
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