Happy New Year! And with the New Year brings a new a new chance to start the racing season off with a clean slate.
To kick off the year, I am enjoying another edition of the Dakar Rally -- which is still not back in Dakar, but does still feature some of the best off-road racing to be had. And, as in the last five years, NASCAR driver Robby Gordon is back amongst the competitors, attempting to win the race a year after ending his 2010 effort in only the fourth day -- due to a loose wheel bearing on his Hummer H2.
“Last year, the Dakar was an agonizing defeat for me. Dropping out on stage four was not only a bitter pill to swallow but more importantly an embarrassment,” Robby commented before kicking off this year’s race. “You can't afford even the smallest mistake on the Dakar. We are very focused for this new edition.”
This year, the Dakar Rally started in Mar Del Plata, Argentina, will cross over the Andes of Chile and then finish in country of Peru.
Both the route and terrain will be different than years’ past, taking the rally competitors over 6,000 miles on motorcycles, four-wheelers, in cars and trucks, and lorries -- driving from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to those of the Pacific.
Yesterday’s first day of the rally started on the Atlantic coast of Argentina, and covered 474 miles -- almost the equivalent of a NASCAR race, but across challenging terrain -- making it the longest stage in the rally.
The drivers will stay in Argentina through tomorrow, before heading into Chile, where they will follow the Andes Mountains before crossing into Peru for the first time in the race history.
Gordon is joined in the No. 303 Toyo Tires Hummer H2 this year by Johnny Campbell, who usually races motorcycles in off-road adventures, but instead will act as Gordon’s navigator for the 14-day adventure. Campbell has 16 Baja wins -- five Baja 500 and 11 Baja 1000, and is excited to join Gordon in the race.
Gordon isn’t the only American driver attempting the race this season: Mark McMillin, a five-time winner of the Baja 500, is driving the No. 350 Jeepspeed Grand Cherokee. “The Dakar has been a lifelong dream on mine,” Mark explained before the race. “My goal this year is to learn as much as I can and take it from there.”
Dakar veteran Darren Skilton, who acted as Gordon’s navigator in 2006, is the third American taking part in the two week South American adventure. Skilton, who won the Open Production 2 class last year, is racing car No. 375, a SPD Revolution VI Jeepspeed Grand Cherokee.
The final American driver in the Rally this year is Robb Rill, a relative unknown to the off-road rally circuit. Rill, who has some experience in pavement racing, actually turned to eBay to buy his No. 441 Darkcyd Racing Range Rover -- coming complete with a high-tech tubular frame, 3.5L turbo-diesel BMW engine and sophisticated suspension.
He decided to give the “Desert Warrior” a test run by racing the Baja 500, where he rolled the car not once, but twice on the dunes. He isn’t letting that stop him. They took the mangled Desert Warrior back to the shop, rebuilt it, and are now on the road in Dakar. (You can follow the Darkcyd racing team here darkcydrallyracing.com.
Sadly, the Rally isn’t without its dangers. Within the first hours of the race Sunday, 38-year old Argentinean rider Jorge Boero, who was riding motorcycle No. 175, fell at km 55 of the special of the first stage between Mar del Plata and Santa Rosa, suffering cardiac arrest. Medical staff was on hand within five minutes, but despite their best efforts, the doctors were unable to resuscitate Boero, who died while he was being taken to the hospital. If you would like to follow any of the American teams as they cover the rally over the next 13 days, you can visit dakar.com.
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