Well, it’s been a mighty interesting day here in the Sea Camp bivouac waiting for the acton to get under way and finding ways to soak up the intricacies and challenges of this relatively new discipline to me.
There are so many folks here willing to give their time and knowledge to help educate a slightly green but enormously enthusiastic, and occasionally quite loud pupil like me! I know I talk a lot, but I have, in my latter years, actually learned to listen a fair amount too.
I know, miracles will never cease!
And so it was that I found myself sitting in one of the fleet of mighty impressive Toyota Hiluxes, that the organizers seem to have a plentiful supply of, being driven around the opening prologue stage by Tom.
Now, I’m going to own up once again to a little bit of muppetry here. I was trying to be a diligent journo and make a note of Tom’s surname on my phone when he insisted that I pass it to him – apparently his surname is beyond my linguistically challenged capabilities. So, Tom typed in his name, passed me the phone, and headed off to do way more important things than spend time with me. And as he headed off into the dunes and dust, I promptly deleted the note – quite accidentally of course.
So, if anyone knows a Belgian co-driver called Tom, he most definitely is not Dutch, I was almost thrown out of the car for having the temerity to suggest that he was, who did a fair amount of co-driving with his brother, up to fifty events in the WRC I believe, then please drop me a note so I can correct this horrible wrong!
Anyway, back to why I was sharing a Hilux with Tom from Belgium.
Well, this Dakar thing is a fairly complex business. Finding your way across mountains and through dunes, covering the length of breadth of Saudi Arabia, a distance of over 9000km, requires a fairly complex bit of kit commonly known as the digital roadbook.
Rally fans will be familiar with the concept of a navigational road book, but this takes things to the next level. Competitor adherence to the specified route is controlled by the necessity to pass a prescribed number of digital way points between the start and finish of each stage.
And if you follow the digital road book to the letter, that’s what happens. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Let me tell you it’s not. Tom, and none other than event director himself David Castera had given up an hour of their precious time to educate myself and a few other head scratching journalists on the intricacies of Dakar navigation, and the aforementioned little black tablet that is the digital roadbook.
It really is an impressive box of tricks; it tells you everything you need to know about navigating your way at speed from one way point to the next.
Crucially, the one thing it doesn’t tell you is when you’re heading blissfully ignorantly off track. Devious little thing that it is!
So we did around 5kms of the opening stage with me navigating- and no we didn’t crash and we didn’t go off route.
But more than that I’d have struggled to cope with.
Relatively simple as it is, it blows my mind to think that the very talented bunch of silly seat navigators can master these devilish little gadgets while travelling at break-neck speed and bouncing around like demented rag dolls.
My appreciation for the discipline of cross-country co-driving has gone up more than a notch or two after my little lesson this morning.
My afternoon and evening were spent listening to presentations of the recently inaugurated World Rally Raid Championship – abbreviated to WR2C just to make things easy. It’s still confusing me far too often, but I’ll get used to it eventually.
And I have to say, I was impressed by what I saw and what I heard – this championship is going places.
Could that ultimately spell trouble for the WRC?
Well, that depends on a lot of things, but I’ll give you more on this tomorrow – I’m off to my tent to cogitate and gather my thoughts.