It was a scene you simply do not expect to see in the desert landscape of Saudi Arabia. Two cars, each from the Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, are stuck in a rapidly filling river around a waypoint midway through the third stage of the Dakar Rally.
The current is fast, a storm is brewing – if not already fully in swing – and there seems to be no way either Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez Contardo nor Cristina Gutiérrez Herrero are getting out of it.
Each lost more than an hour in the stage, effectively ruling them out of victory contention in the T3 Lightweight Prototype category. But perhaps the biggest victory was just getting to the end of the stage with the car still in one piece.
“Well, we are finally here in the camper van with the heat, it has been one of the most complicated stages that I have ever driven,” Gutiérrez Herrero said in a social media post upon getting back to the bivouac.
“Everything was going well; we had a good rhythm and suddenly there was a waypoint which passed a small river.
“It was a small river but, because it started to rain more and more, the storms started to [happen] and the rain fell a lot in that area, and when Chaleco and I passed, we tried to cross and got stuck in the “small” river as we were trying to take the waypoint.
“Then, suddenly, the water started to come inside the car, right up to my neck [so] I really suffered inside the car because I thought I was going to be taken with the current.”
If reading that account sounds scary, just imagine what Gutiérrez Herrero and navigator Pablo Moreno Huete – and Lopez Contardo’s navigator Juan Pablo Latrach Vinagre – must have been feeling inside the car.
Indeed, Gutiérrez Herrero had even contemplated bailing on her Can-Am Maverick.
“I was even thinking about getting out of the car because it was getting worse,” the Extreme E co-champion said. “But I finally stayed inside the car because I knew that if I turned off the engine, it would be worse. So, I had to be continually accelerating the car so as not to turn it off.”
Gutiérrez Herrero and Lopez Contardo eventually received assistance from truck competitors, who pulled them out of the river before getting on their way.
For the former, the drama wasn’t over yet, as the car’s electrics had been submerged in water which forced several more stops soon after.
“And once we were out, the car was having all sorts of electrical faults at first, an oil pressure failure that did not allow us to drive more than 30km, so we spent 30 minutes trying to get the car to warm up,” Gutiérrez Herrero added.
“Pablo was raising the sensors, cleaning them, the windshield wipers which stopped working and then we had to drive the rest of the stage with rain and mud. Pablo was cleaning every 10 seconds.
“We attached a rope to try and make the wipers move and, in the end, it has been a drama the whole day like you cannot imagine.”
The Dakar has experienced similar incidents in the past, with the 1994 edition perhaps the most controversial after dozens of competitors became stuck in the fesh fesh overnight, forcing Citroën’s Hubert Auriol to have a very public run-in with event director Fenouil after deliberately missing the “impossible” waypoint.
Gutiérrez Herrero and Lopez Contardo were not the only crews to encounter difficulties on stage three this year, but the former is keen for the organizers, the ASO, to take stock of the potential issues in the event of rainfall, which is set to continue for stage four.
“The truth of it is the start of this Dakar has been a surprise and let’s see what happens,” last year’s podium finisher said.
“I hope the organization is aware of what happened and that in the end, they act accordingly. I hope tomorrow will be better, but it should be raining too and there’s a chance everything will be all flooded, absolutely flooded.
“I remember in South America that we had some things like this, and the decision was taken for safety, so let’s see what happens because things are not looking very good.”
Gutiérrez Herrero had been running inside the top three during the stage and is now 10th in the overall classification, while three-time event winner Lopez Contardo is sixth having led coming into the stage.