January 01, 2006

Lisboa Dakar, Start!

This is what the start of the Dakar race looks like. Riders go up a special ramp set-up to the "stage" start and stop to have their names and countries read out loud to the audience. Then they wave, get the nod, and roll out! Pete threw on his goggles and took off quite carefully. About 5-ish in the morning it was pitch black and it started raining. Everyone was quite nervous because they were all on new knobby tires and the wet asphalt made things treacherous. Many riders commented on just making it through the streets and were scared of falling down in front of everybody.

December 31st, approx. 6:34AM.

Can you imagine what's going through his mind as he sets off into the unknown? It's not about the race. . . it's about survival. Endurance, focus, navigational skills, everything comes into play here. I would estimate most of the riders were in their forties! One, it's an expensive race to undertake, and two, they have the maturity to run their pace and not crap out. Younger riders may be very fast for a couple days, but they never seem to make it to the final stage.

#119, Pete. It started to rain while we were talking so if the picture looks blurry it's a combination of rain, poor camera action, and the fact that the race started in the DARK! Scary stuff people. It was amazing seeing everyone before the start of the race because the wealth of motorcycling experiences they had achieved already was incredible. Seeing some footage of the race environment really made it evident how stark and alien the landscape is in Africa. I spoke for a long time with a woman named Sally (Sally Rally, and other nicknames, haha), who hold numerous records for a female motorcyclist, like climbing the highest on Mount Everest. I didn't even know you could do such a thing, much less have a competition for it. As I shook Pete's hand I told him the same thing I said to all the Dakar participants:
"God Bless and God Speed."
It seemed appropriate.

I arrived in Lisbon on the 29th, just in time to get a quick dinner and walk around a little. I knew the Dakar Race wasn't starting until the 31st, and I spent the the 30th touring through the city a bit and just getting a feel for the people. I did make it down to the exibition of vehicles, though, and despite the heavily overcast weather, I had a great time checking out all the colorful cars/trucks/bikes/and really, really, big trucks! The Dakar was kicked off from the grounds of a famous museum with classic moorish structures intermixing with machinery of the highest caliber.

I had a great time checking out the grounds of the event and just walking around in general. The people weren't necessarily rude, but they seem to have a problem getting out of the way. . . .
Nonetheless, I took a lot of pictures, talked with a couple Americans (I eventually met 6 American non-racers over the weekend in Lisbon), and kept my eyes and ears out for anything interesting.

The surrounding fields and parks were fenced off and under constant surveillance from both armed security guards, local police, and Dakar officials. Gauloises was well represented in all categories.

I met with Peter Brock, who works with Robby Gordon, and we discussed Gordon's plans for the Dakar. He's running an experimental H3 "truck" that was still being worked on the day before the race. We joked about his involvement in Nascar, and quite bluntly I was told that he only races Nascar to make enough money to race off-road. I guess it does pay the bills :) Gordon has signed up for three years with this team and that shows some serious commitment by all parties. As of today, day three, he's 1:30 seconds back off the leader, and that's pretty good for an American driver. The giant screen in the background was playing highlights from the previous Dakar races constantly, all the way from the first run in 1979! A fantastic history lesson in itself.

One shot of Gordon's vehicle. More info can be found at

Robby Gordan's website.

I found some neat freebies, like this bottle of vino!

Actually, it was a wine shooter :)

There were tons of local police cruising around on these old Beemers.

Is this a Lotus Elise on Steroids?!? I didn't know who made these cars, but there were quite a few and they looked the business!

Believe it or not, this is the factory grill off a street legal H3.

Enough with the four wheelers for now, on to the bikes! There were literally hundreds of them sitting, waiting. Most of them had the GPS equipement removed and when the riders showed up early on Race morning, many were carrying their gear in plastic bags. A couple of them forgot things at the hotel and there were frantic taxi rides back and forth to insure everything was exactly where it belonged. Once the riders entered the fenced off area on race day, the rules kicked in. No Assistance!

To my complete delight, Yamaha had decided to run their 50th anniversary colors, the Barda Bee scheme!

Who's bike is that in the background (#42) and how is he doing currently?

As far as I could tell, this was the lone Suzuki entry. . .

Hog Wild Racing!

These guys were a little crazy, building their own frame and front end to run the Dakar in the sidecar category. Overall, it was a burly beast, with HUGE tires. No other sidecar has successfully navigated the Dakar, except for one. And they cheated by circumventing the Sahara and taking a time penalty. I'm not sure how they're doing right now, since I haven't seen any coverage. Speaking of coverage, every night at 10:30 here there is a Dakar Update on Eurosport. Several channels always seem to be playing footage from that day's section and I'm glad to see motorcycling getting some airtime!

I have to get some rest, it's late at night over here (again!). I'll leave you with this since I probably won't be posting for a day or two:
What is this, where is it from, and who makes it?

I had a fantastic time in Lisbon, and the outlying areas. I had some good food, met some interesting people, and really got a kick out of the architecture, the rich history, and dipping a toe in the Atlantic for the first time! Naturally, documentation of the journey will make it to Barf, just not as rapidly as normal. I have a hectic couple of days coming up and within a week I expect to be somewhere very unique. . . .

Where will I be on January 15th? Yes, it's motorcycle related, but not related to the Dakar. . .

This was really nice to see. A message in French from the rider's daughter and wife. Watching the start of the race in the morning, I saw a group of people (obviously family members of the pilot) who broke down in sobbing tears as he took off from the first checkpoint. It must be extremely nerve-wracking to know your partner is going to be in the middle of nowhere for the next two weeks battling the elements and mother nature in some of her worst conditions.

Here's Rauseo's and Krynock's bikes before the big test.

More of Yamaha's 50th party! One of these bikes was piloted by a very attractive woman. Rawr - Sexy!

Here's Rauseo's bike's MUG. On every bike I saw, the pilot's name was next to his country's flag. In this case, Charlie and crew were running the Skull and Crossbones. . . . . why?!? Privateers!

Who's a Dakar fan?

Some shots from the museum/conference hall next to the bike parking. What's that in the background?

This will sound strange, but Lisbon reminds me of SF in a big way. There's a replica Golden Gate, and across the bridge it totally reminds me of Sausalito. It's kind of creepy, really, how similar this place is to SF. You need to see it to understand.

This is art, and in the right place, too! The perfect blend of relics!

Total Insecticon Street Cleaner!

DC, Yo! Support your local skate shop, fools! So good to see this level of support from the extreme industry.

Some last Dakar shots, before I delve into the Lisbon and Castelo trips. These race trucks are unbelievable. I think this particular one hails from Japan.

Watching the coverage on TV every night makes it seem easy, but seeing three crew members scrabbling in the sand trying to dig their trucks out brings it all home. Sometimes the trucks are so stuck they attach a rope and literally "roll" their truck down a dune. . . .
Sideways! They flip over several times and hopefully land on their wheels.

Gotta love independent tire pressure, controlled from the cab with remote inflator/deflators.

This armored car looks like the A-Team designed it.

One of my favorites, the UniMog!

Did I mention that these Trucks are HUGE?!? That's a full size Toyota Land Cruiser sitting there. And these trucks and cars sometimes blaze past the bikes (we're talking clipping distance!). Can you imagine splitting traffic with these big boys? I had dinner with this crew the night before at a seafood joint. They were all relaxed and smoking up a storm. Hailing from the Netherlands, most of them spoke halting English, and I wished them luck. Haven't seen them on TV yet, though.

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