Fesh-fesh await racers

2015-01-08 00:00

THE Dakar yesterday claimed its first victim, with Polish rider Michal Hernik (39) found dead along the third stage of the race between San Juan and Chilecito, Argentina.

He was one of three friends who had prepared for two years to race in their first Dakar, riding on a KTM he nicknamed “Baby”.

The scene of Hernik’s death showed no signs of an accident and he may have succumbed to heat stroke in the 42° Celsius temperatures after spending close to six hours in the saddle.

Before the race, Hernik told media his team-mates only aimed to complete the rally. They had prepared for two years for the Dakar, but Hernik admitted their weakest point would be handling the emotions and stress of the event.

Dakar racers have to pass check points that are about 30 minutes apart and when Hernik’s tracking signal was lost yesterday, an ambulance helicopter was immediately dispatched. His body was found the about 300 metres from the route.

To date, more than 70 people, more than half of them spectators, have died in 35 Dakar rallies.

Yesterday’s start saw 76 teams retire from the race, including 31 riders, but for most of the South African top racers competing in the 9 000 km cross-country race — the world’s longest vehicle event — the rally is going to plan.

Privateers Johan van Staden and co-driver Mike Lawrenston are making good time in the Top 40 in their Nissan Navara, while quad rider Willem Saaijman is in the Top 30 and Riaan van Niekers in the Top 20 of the bike riders.

Imperial Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Dirk von Zitsewitz are pacing themselves just behind the leader to occupy the second ranking behind the Mini of Qatari driver Nasser al Attiyah.

After a 12th position on the second day, Imperial Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie spent 41 minutes replacing a bent steering arm and yesterday used their desert expertise to claw their way back to the top 20 through the giant dunes of the Atacama desert.

Team boss Glyn Hall said Poulter had it in him to win stages and it will be interesting to see how high they can climb back up on the leader board.

The drivers yesterday spent 594 km just to get to the 315 km special stage, at the end of which the Dakar rally makes its legendary dune drop from Argentina’s 4,8 km-high altitude to the sea level mining town of Copiapo in Chile. Many of the slower racers faced this plummet at night and say they prefer not being able to see exactly how steep the drop is.

Today’s race sees just 239 km of liaison stages, during which road rules must be observed. Then the racers will try to make up time along 458 km of flat, beach racing.

But along the way, the fesh-fesh awaits. These are deep holes filled with powdery sand that can bury a bike or rip off a truck’s chassis. Fesh-fesh are indistinguishable from firm surfaces and racers who want to overtake have to gamble they won’t fall into one.

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