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  • Dakar Rally Crosses Andean Peaks a Second Time

    San Juan, Argentina - The last forty-eight hours have continued the breakneck pace for competitors in the 2011 Dakar Rally. Beginning from Copiapo, Chile on January 10th, teams were once again directed into the barren and desolate waist lands of the Atacama Desert. Though the stages leading up to the rest day in Arica, and the two days in Copiapo, were beyond brutal to man, woman and machine, organizers have not eased the pressure or intensity. Dakar, as it seams, is all about selfless subjection to abuse, life in a perpetual sleep deprivation, sleeping in sweat-soaked clothes in a dirty sleeping bag the midst of a dusty noisy dirt lot turned 24-hour auto shop. If you are lucky, you have good set of earplugs. It is the aforementioned qualities that levy such a high level of pride and accomplishment in completing what the world has come to know as Dakar.

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    Copiapo, Chile to Chilecito Argentina – 862km
    Stage 10, from Copiapo, Chile to Chilecito, Argentina brought the total distance from the starting point in Buenos Aires to a staggering 7,328 kilometers. As the day turned to night, rough conditions of the stage resulted in additional culling of the remaining field. The leader board in the auto class has been shuffled in the past few days. Carlos Sainz, of Spain, who lead early in the week, now trails Al-Attiyah of Kuwait by almost two hours. De Villiers of South Africa, while our own Mark Miller slipped to sixth overall.

    The Dakar Ford Raptor, driven by Sue Mead and Darren Skilton and the only remaining team in all of the OP classes, had a hard and close encounter with a large boulder yesterday. Mid-way through the Stage, they took a hard hit to the lower A-arm on the driver’s side. The A-arm was remained attached but the mount to the frame was torn open. Skilton contacted the support team that it would be a late night, as he and Mead would try to limp the Raptor into camp. After sixteen hours behind the wheel, they rolled into the bivouac, and in an unbelievable 37th position in the auto class.

    Team mechanics Troy Johnson and Dan Moore immediately assessed the situation and went to work. At 2am, they had the front end of the Raptor disassembled, had straighten the bent A-arm mount, welded bracing where needed and were in re-assembling mode. It is not surprise these guys know how to ‘Get It’ when it comes to fixing things. Johnson owns The FabSchool, Dan Moore is his lead instructor, and they, along with their Fall 2010 class of students, were responsible for race-prepping the Raptor for Dakar.

    Chilecito to San Juan, Argentina – 786km
    The bright side about today’s section is that there are flies. Yes, flies are a good sign. It means that there is stuff for flies to eat. And that means there is water, vegetation and life… non of which are found in the Atacama.

    Did I mention the attrition rate at Dakar is through the roof. Of the 250+ T1 (autos) and T4(Semi trucks on steroids), only 101 would take a position in the starting line up this morning. Of the total 786km today, the Special, or dirt section, would be 622km.

    While meeting with the crew last night, Dakar Ford Raptor team manager Darren Skilton said, “ I’m really happy to be here and that the truck is holding together. These past two days have been unbelievable, scary and very dangerous. It is just crazy out there. I was driving when we hit the slit beds. It was a mess. Cars went in, disappeared and never came out. I was driving and pulled quick Baja move. We took the far right side away from the dog pile found our own track. We could hear the engines and carnage in the cloud of slit. But we got around all of it and must have passed fifteen cars.” Skilton continued, “ That is the good news. The bad news is we hit that rock really hard, damaged the car, and I was really worried that we could put ourselves out the race. We got lucky this time… but we have to drive smart to finish this thing.”

    Autos, bikes and trucks are filtering into the bivouac as this goes to print. Mead and Skilton have passed Check Point 2 and are on the Liaison portion (paved). At this point there are racing only against themselves. All other OP/1 and OP/2 are out of the race. If they can keep the Raptor together for three more days, they will land a podium finish for one of the only production vehicles in the race. Official postings last night showed the team in 37th position in the Auto Class.

    For Stage 12 tomorrow, organizers are changing it up a bit. At 0415 hours, the T4 trucks will lead the stage to Cordoba – followed by bikes and then autos. Today’s stage kicked up the ante to 8117 kilometers, and tomorrow will tack on another 700km. You can view real time Iritrack position updates at and follow the team at Facebook under Dakar Ford Raptor. Or, stay tuned here.

    Story by Chris Collard
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