【Dakar 2023 Special③】 The Dakar Rally You Didn’t Know

How do riders and teams racing in the Dakar Rally spend the their time? Read on for more about the Dakar Rally, from the lifestyle of the riders to questions about the race.

【Dakar 2023 Special③】 The Dakar Rally You Didn’t Know

Three or more liters a day - Hydration is Vital

Riders carry three liters of water in their backpacks (commonly known as a "camel bag") equipped with a system that allows them to stay hydrated while racing. Three liters is the minimum amount required by the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme), the organizer of the Dakar Rally, which also must be completely empty by the time they reach refueling points. In other words, riders must drink at least 3 liters of water during the race. The FIM also recommends that the water contain electrolytes, and has sugar and salt added. The amount of energy used by the riders throughout the day is extreme. To prevent heat stroke and dehydration, maintaining physical condition is also stipulated in the rules.

Control the Food, Control the Race - Thorough Nutritional Management

There are cafeterias at the bivouacs (the campsite where participants gather), but riders rarely visit these cafes as they usually eat in their motorhomes. This is because some teams have caretakers who prepare meals with manage riders’ nutrition. Honda teams also have chefs on staff to ensure that the nutritional needs of the riders are met, so they can compete day in and day out.

During the race, riders mainly eat energy bars. Since each rider has their own preference, they usually bring their own. They cannot eat whilst riding, so they take advantage of the limited breaks they have, such as the refueling points along the route, or when the riders stop for 15 minutes according to the regulations.

Motorhomes, Not Hotels

During the race, most riders sleep in mobile homes called motorhomes. Some hotels are located 30 minutes to an hour away, but many riders choose to stay in their motorhomes because they are closer to the route, and the beds allow them to recover faster. HRC provides one motorhome for every two riders. Team staff sleep in pop-up tents or vans.

What About the Toilets?

During the race, riders race for 3 to 5 hours non-stop. Contrary to popular belief, riderrs have enough time to go to the toilet. As there are one or two refueling points along the way, riders take these opportunities to do what they must. There are no real toilets, so riders find a place out of sight to relieve themselves.

No Chance to Mingle - Riders Talk to Each Other Much

Riders rarely meet each other during the race or at the bivouac, and there are no opportunities for riders to become friends. When news of a team transfer breaks, there is no real friction between the old and new teammate, as they never had the chance to get to know each other well in the first place, and they are starting afresh each time. It is up to each rider as to whether they communicate with their fellow riders or not.

Mechanics Just Wait for their Riders to Return

メMechanics and team staff are not allowed to enter the route. Once the rider is on the route, all the mechanics can do is wait at the bivouac for their riders to return. The rest is up to the riders. If there is an accident, the final decision on rescuing a rider is made by the organizers, not by the riders or mechanics. If a bike breaks down, the rider is rescued by helicopter and the bike is recovered by the organizers. The bikes are either pulled by trucks equipped with cranes, or by helicopter if they are stuck in places where trucks cannot enter. In fact, former HRC rider Joan Barreda was transported by helicopter when he retired in 2017 due to injury.

Locating the Riders: Managers and Staff the Same as Spectators

Organizers know the location of each rider via GPS, but this data is not shared with team staff, how must instead use information on the Internet, which can be viewed anywhere else, to keep track of the riders' locations.

Everyone Except Riders Travel by Van

Each team has its own means of transportation for mechanics, such as driving a motorhome or using an assistant car. In HRC’s case, there are three vans for team staff use. As mechanics are not allowed to enter the route, but can assist during liaison (the section from the camp to the route), tires and spare parts are loaded into the vans, ready to respond to any mechanical problems at any time. The three vans are spread out evenly at the ends and the middle of the four riders as they race, so that the team can respond rapidly when they are required.

Refueling the Old Way - By Hand Pump

Refueling during the Dakar is nothing like a road race such as the Suzuka 8 Hours where pit crew pump in fuel within a second or so: Riders use hand pumps to refuel their own bikes. At some refueling points, large fuel tanks are placed in the middle of the desert, while at others they are brought in by trucks. In the past there have been problems with water in the gasoline due to the storage environment. After a race, however, refueling is done by mechanics.

Fuel Quality Differs between Countries

Teams use gasoline specified by the organizers. The rules are that the fuel must be commercially available in the host country, not racing fuel. The type of gasoline, high-octane or regular, varies from venue to venue. Organizers provide this information to the riders before the race, so that they can adjust their engine settings according to the type of gasoline. When the Dakar was held in South America, not only did the gasoline type, but quality varied as the race crossed borders. As different quality fuels could damage the engines, teams used different ECU mappings in response.

Two More Stages for a Dramatic Finish

Each team conducts pre-tests in preparation for the Dakar. As the route is announced after the pre-tests, teams had to base their tests on best-guess distances. In 2023, there were two more stages than the previous year. The increased distance placed a higher load on rider and bike. These extra two stages raised the possibility of mechanical issues in the final stages, leading to significant changes in race order and a dramatic finish.

HRC’s pre-tests are not held according to estimated distances each year, but the same distance regardless of year. The extra two stages was longer than pre-test distances, but the engines were built to handle the extra two stages with ease.

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