The Road to Dakar

Words by Francois Flamengo | Photos by DO IT NOW

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I was anxious when I opened the much-anticipated email from the organisers. “Congratulations Mr. D. Curtis, your entry for the 2012 Dakar has been accepted.” My dream of taking part in the biggest off-road race in the world was to become a reality. I was on the road to the famed Dakar Rally.

The Road to Dakar

These were the words from a very excited Darryl Curtis when I asked him to describe how he received the news about his entry to the Dakar Rally, which takes place from 1-15 January 2012, through three countries – Argentina, Chile and Peru – and covers a gruelling and mind-blowing distance of almost 9,000km.

This process might sound pretty standard and straight forward; you mail the organisers and asked them for an entry form, complete it and you are in. In reality though, it is actually a lot more complicated than that because even if you have the close to a million rand to burn on a chance to take part in the Dakar as a complete privateer, your entry is screened and only if you have all the correct credentials on your racing CV are you accepted. For Darryl this criteria was not a problem. With more than 20 years of riding experience in some of the most difficult races around the world, he had the right ‘minerals’ to tackle an extreme race like the Dakar, also known as the most dangerous race in the world!

But entering was the ‘easier’ part. The real hard work now was to secure enough sponsors for the race, get a bike to race on, sort out all the logistics and start training for this endurance race.

Broadlink came to the party as the title sponsor. Mike Brown from Broadlink is also a very enthusiastic motorsport supporter and when he was presented with the opportunity to become Daryl’s title sponsor, he grabbed it with both hands.

KTM SA supplied the bike for the race, and when it arrived at Bandit Signs you could feel the excitement in the air. We couldn’t wait to see what was inside the box that rolled in on a forklift. The big white sticker on the side read ‘450 Rally Factory Rep’, a sign that the toy inside meant serious business.

Once the KTM Dakar ‘Beast’ was revealed, it was easy to see why these bikes are perfect machines for this type of race. The Beast came standard with an Akrapovic exhaust, a Scott performance steering damper and navigation system for the race book, all finished off with some very stylish carbon plates and mountings. In a nutshell it had all the bells and whistles for a rider to simply through a leg over, start her up and get her onto a race track. It definitely lives up to the manufacturer’s slogan ‘Ready to Race’. The pressure was now on Darryl.

The Road to Dakar

I asked Darryl about his training programme for this race and how it would differ to his normal training schedule. He explained that the biggest changes were having to go on a strict calorie-controlled diet and supplement his training schedule, of six days a week, by adding three Pilates sessions, two three-hour mountain bike stints and some 300 XCW training on the weekends, either taking part in a race or out on a training ride either in Lesotho or around Johannesburg. Pilates is great for strengthening the core, which is very important if you have any aspirations of finishing the race.

Some of the other challenges facing Daryl, besides the logistical nightmare of getting all his equipment to the starting line, were preparing his body to cope with very little sleep and long days in the saddle, staying focused throughout the race and learning how to navigate each stage, to get him from point A to B timeously each day.

It was time to call in the specialists. Darryl hooked up with Ingo Waldschmidt and the guys from Africa Motions Tours in Namibia, who specialise in training rides for the Dakar. They would help him to tackle each of these challenges, as well as two of the most important aspects of his training; riding the bike through some massive dune terrain and how to find all the ‘hidden’ checkpoints en route. Ingo Waldschmidt, a seasoned rider from Namibia who has competed in two Dakar rallies, shared his experiences that he had learnt the hard way. When it came to the dunes, it was absolutely amazing to see how the bike handled in the sand, practically gobbling up the massive sand monsters with ease. However, the challenge was not to get up the dune; it was learning how to navigate through all the nasty dangers that lurked beneath the sand. The smallest lapse in concentration will see you come short, either by falling down a slip face or into a blind hole in the sand. Anyone who has done big dune driving in Namibia will understand exactly what I’m talking about.

With all the preparations for the Dakar well underway, we wish Darryl a fantastic race and look forward to following him through each stage. In the February issue of DO IT NOW, Ingo will give us insight into his past experiences of the Dakar race, to help us really understand what Darryl was facing.