A spaceship in the Dakar desert

It is one thing to see it on video, in a photo, or to be told about it.

08 January 2023 Sunday 22:33
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A spaceship in the Dakar desert

It is one thing to see it on video, in a photo, or to be told about it. And another is to live it live, just 100 meters away, filling yourself with dust from the cloud that it raises as it passes over the fine sand, and being entranced by that almost fictional sound, compared to the usual roar of combustion SUVs. The Audi RS Q e-tron E2, after a series of setbacks that have ruined the options of its three drivers, yesterday was the fastest car in the caravan led by Carlos Sainz, although the man from Madrid was left without a consolation prize …for speeding.

He was set to be the great rival of Nasser Al Attiyah's Toyota Hilux, but two accidents at the same time by Peterhansel and Sainz on Friday, and a breakdown by Ekström on Saturday have left the Qatari alone in the fight for the Tuareg. Even so, the only hybrid car in the rally -with four electric motors, plus a combustion engine as a regenerator for the batteries- insists on proving to be the fastest, and the winning bet of the future green Dakar. The mere presence of him is already intimidating...

It appears from behind the last dunes, devilishly downhill but in slow motion, silhouetted against the sandy-brown landscape like a silver spaceship, so aerodynamically aesthetic, so aggressive, with that hum like the squeal of rails. A continuous, interminable fzziiiiiiii, without the pause of the regime change -because it has no gears- that is overlapped when the deafening combustion engine of an Audi from the DTM comes into operation.

That thermal engine makes so much noise that Sainz and Lucas Cruz have to put on thick earplugs to muffle the thunderous turbine. "To hear each other we have to turn up the volume of the headphones to the maximum, otherwise it is impossible," the Catalan co-pilot explained to this newspaper. With his Madrid couple they were left without a second stage victory for exceeding the maximum speed by 50 km / h in a controlled section. They fell 5 minute penalty. "They did not brake in time when they entered the reduction zone," the rally director, David Castera, explained to this newspaper, who was observing the peculiar scenario at the end of the stage in Al Duwadimi out of the corner of his eye.

With the cars of the race still reaching the finish line, the locals or "countrymen", with their dilapidated pick-ups, play at doing the Dakar in the final stretch of the stage. They pull their SUVs into the lines of the competitors, accelerate, skid, and get out of the way before the next racer comes along. They are never in the middle. “They don't give us any problems: we only see them in the first and last 10 km of each stage; In the rest of the special you don't find anyone; It's empty," Castera explains as he approaches the public outpost set up by the ASO, a kind of picnic on the sand, with three haimas and the ubiquitous carpet, which the organization has prepared for its guests less than a kilometer from the finish, 200 km south of Al Duwadimi.

“In other places they throw stones at us, like in Morocco or Tunisia. Here, the openness has not yet reached those extremes”, says Castera with her French phlegm, who does not hide that she has spared herself coexistence problems. Another thing, recalls the director of the rally, was in South America, where passionate fans flocked from all sides to have the best box and, at the same time, to be able to lend a hand to the stranded driver. This is precisely what the competitors of the Dakar in Saudi Arabia miss most, the contact with the public, with the natives, whom they barely see.

In the Saudi Dakar, the closest the participants get to the native population is when the vehicles leave the bubble of the special and make connections along conventional roads, where, on the way to the bivouac, their racing artifacts mix with the crowds of trucks that cross Arabia on that kind of Pan-American highway that is the highway from Riyadh to Mecca.

Or when the countrymen approach, curious, prudent, to where the foreigners are with their crazy pots and pans. Even the mini-camp of 200 guests from the ASO, some young locals come to enjoy the passing of the cars, to browse and take photos and videos that they post on their networks. Paradoxically, they have coverage in the middle of the desert. But not all.

A merchant wearing a red and white scarf walks towards a small hill, and stretches out his arm to the sky looking for a signal for his latest generation smartphone. Proudly, he shows the search neighbor the photos he has taken of the cars, motorcycles, and incidentally, shows some items -trinkets- that he must sell in his store. “No English”, he apologizes to the intruder. And he keeps looking for the celestial sign that the server did not find to send this chronicle...



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