Something must be wrong among decision makers in Portugal, and this late decision to cancel Baja do Pinhal is yet another perfect example of that.
Just a bit of background: Portugal is a country that has a somewhat dark history regarding wildfires, that destroyed not only huge portions of the forest of the country but also people's lives and way of living. Only the ones that already experienced a wildfire in the summer can really understand what this means. In recent years, this have become even a greater problem, with increasingly large and deadly fires across all the country.
The region where the now-cancelled Baja do Pinhal should have been raced has some deep scars of a huge fire that ravaged the region 3 years ago. Already this year, another fire burned some portions that escaped the previous time.
One can say that is due to climate change, which is true, the hotter, longer, and dryer summers are real and are here. All the locals know about it, and some behaviors that once were not dangerous, now are and should be avoided.
But the real causes for the Portuguese "gun powder barrel" are different. The monoculture of either eucalyptus or pine trees covers miles and miles of terrains once occupied by the much more fire-resistant Mediterranean forest. Years of wrong decisions led to the actual situation, where the local flora rich in fauna was replaced by easy burning species and a type of culture that doesn't even allow a single weed to develop under the shade of a quite curious "green desert" near empty of all other types of life.
Another reason can be found in the "human desertification" of the region, with more and more people leaving the area searching for better life opportunities elsewhere, which means that weeds, bushes, and trees grow wild where ever they want in a land once occupied by people.
Yet another reason can be found in many years of government decisions, not investing enough money in equipment for firemen and civil protection services, with many of these structures dealing with a shortage of vehicles and other materials, or if they have them, they are beyond obsolete.
To add to all of this, there is an increasing collective conscience that we should do all to preserve our environment, with constant news on the media, and thousands of posts and comments social media. With such a popular topic, always looks good when an official comes to the media telling that it is doing something to protect the environment.
So, it appears that the Portuguese government took the easy path, simply forbidding all types of activities in forest and rural areas when the conditions are more severe and punishing the ones that dare to do something, even if not dangerous. Decision like the one of today appears like the decision maker doesn't care about anything else. Often officials come to the public showing to the wider audience that they are really doing something and are serious about it, but in reality, they are hiding some flaws of the system.
What is really missing here are safer but harder solutions like prevention and public education, alongside a sensible forest politic that doesn't forbid exotic species like the eucalyptus but prevent and/or regulate its spreading.
Some even say that what the government is protecting is the eucalyptus forest owned by big paper industries and the huge portions of pines trees for the timber industry, not caring much about anything else, and at the same time "appearing good" to the public.
What few say is that events like Baja do Pinhal are a small but important source of income for these regions, mostly poor, with few inhabitants and in need of activities to help them. Motorsports bring people either to enter the race or to see the participants pass. On the days the race hotels are full, restaurants serve dozens of meals and many other businesses get an increase in their activity. And one must not forget that the support provided to the race by local authorities is exponentially multiplied and redistributed by the region in order of magnitude impossible for any mayor or other government structure to replicate.
And everybody knows that racing is not only owning and driving a race car or motorbike, but there are also a lot of business surrounding this activity and in a period of our lives so complicated like this one where Covid-19 is spreading havoc everywhere, including in the economy, to have a chance to do some business and earn a bit of money could be the difference between keeping the activity alive or closing doors and go to unemployment.
Most of the people present at Baja do Pinhal will understand that is better safe than sorry, but what no one understands is how can such a dramatic decision be taken on top of the event, with more than 90% of the participants and organizers already arrived, with many hundreds of thousands of euros spent that are now impossible to recover.
The weather changes, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but the weather pattern in Portugal for these days didn't changed dramatically from one minute to the other, and if this decision was taken 2 or 3 days before, the damage would not be so big.
There was no fire yet, but the damage is already done by a blind decision. Our opinion is probably not impartial, but we do more things beyond running motorsports websites, and we do know with a fair amount of detail about what is the interior of Portugal and what are its needs and potentialities, and what we can tell is that this decision was just another nail in the coffin of one of the poorest regions of the country.
We aren't owners of the truth, and we should all agree that taking decisions at government level is a complicated task. With this being said, we just hope that the same doesn't repeat in the future and these decisions could be made with a litle bit more information and care about all the ones that are affected.
PS: In a latter development, Escuderia de Castelo Branco announced that the race could take place on 19 and 20 of September, one week after the scheduled date.
We want to ask you something...
But before that, let us tell you the reason for our question.
Today we've made another big change (or improvement as you prefer) on our Rally-Raid Network portal. As you all know, we push as hard as we can with our very few resources to be able to offer you and to all our visitors the best experience possible, publishing news and contents of races from all continents, and trying to have a feature-rich and "good looking" website.
In the past months, we changed and radically improved the design, and just a few weeks ago we've made yet another big improvement, introducing a lot of new features and possibilities. Our "Directory" section has also been renewed and in the coming weeks, we plan to update all existing pages and publish also new ones.
Today we've completed the migration to a new and faster server, that brings a range of new possibilities including more speed, space, and features.
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Can you please tell us if you feel any noticeable speed improvement? And does the site load correctly on your device?
You can answer in our FB page https://www.facebook.com/rallyraidnetwork . It doesn't take long, doesn't cost you nothing and is quite important for us to know how the site is working in your device.
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We damn journos usually tend to write only about drivers, seeming to forget that the other side is at least as important. But now it’s co-drivers’ time, and not only on Rally-Raid Network, but also in the 2020 edition of Dakar Rally which promises to be particularly interesting and focused on navigators...
French organiser ASO labels the 42 edition of Dakar Rally as the beginning of a new chapter. Saudi Arabia offers a new challenge to everyone in an unknown and unforgiving terrain and new race director David Castera, himself a seasoned and experienced co-driver, announced a set of actions to make the sport more human and less technological in terms of navigation, drastically limiting or even eliminating so-called map-men, reforming the navigation rules of the world’s hardest motorsport event profoundly. There will be stages for which the crews only receive the roadbook right before the start, pre-coloured. This aims to eliminate the differences between smaller and bigger teams, to ensure a fair and equal fight on the track in a more leveled competition, not so dependent on technology or resources, but instead demanding more navigation skills.
As a side effect, the average speed will probably be reduced, since the teams relied greatly on the notes and map-men’s work. Now they must take more time to find the right way and can’t be driving so fast otherwise they may go “gardening” and lose even more time than if they were driving slower.
Brave new world?
Rallye du Maroc 2019 worked as a “test tube” for this new system, with the organisers testing a set of solutions related to the new roadbook, allowing the teams to have a first real contact with this form of navigation.
Like in everything else, when a radical change is made the probability of problems showing up is high. In Rally du Maroc, on the first day of trying the new system, several top teams had accidents (Ten Brinke, Prokop, Van Loon, Domzala, Alonso). Of course, it is impossible to judge how much the new pre-coloured roadbook contributed to the accidents, as such incidents also happened countless times with the traditional system and it’s not unusual that the crews blame the roadbook.
The organisers have now shown the path they want to take for at least their races, if not for the whole sport. But despite all the credits the idea has, it needs to be fine-tuned to be safer and fairer to everybody. While in the past each rider or driver had his particular marking or side notes, now everybody will have to read the same, and this gives a lot of responsibility to those not only writing the roadbook, but also marking it because the smallest error could have catastrophic results.
The end result we all expect (or at least hope for) is a more human competition, focused on those racing, and not on technology or the other people attached to a computer analysing every inch of the route with the new tools we all have access to.
After many years in the shadow, it is finally time for co-drivers to return to their rightful place.
In the current times, there is a kind of "Elephant in the room" that is the fact that in rally-raid or cross-country rallies there is any more the direct support or involvement with an official racing team of any car manufacturer on global terms, neither in FIA events, nor in the ever-increasing number of large rallies, of which the Dakar Rally still shines above all others. Of course, in some countries, some brands still support the local championships, either by sponsoring events or having teams with their official name and colours. But it is with some sorrow that we see the times of the legendary teams of Mitsubishi and Peugeot/Citroen more and more distant and without a proper replacement or update. A few years ago, Volkswagen, after a quite successful campaign, also made its path into shelf of the history books and more recently was the time for Peugeot to vanish for a second time after returning to the "active". They aren't the only ones, for example Seat also made a serious but brief attempt in cross-country rallies long time ago.
Of course, the big companies that sell us our normal cars have their excuses for that: The sport is expensive, the general public aren't interested in it, it is not environmentally friendly, it is dangerous and even the technologies are changing. All these arguments have a foot in reality and the other in what the receivers of the message expect from those guys, playing into more wide background narrative against the car industry due to pollution, climate change or some other interest. The reality is that cars keep selling more and more, especially SUVs that appeal to adventure and exploration, the industry is still strong, so why to invest in sport or developing of new technologies related with it if the business goes strong. Other point in favour of the factories is that the participants always mention that they drove brand X or Y at their races, we also do it, so in most cases we are all offering free promotion and huge return to the ones who aparently don't care about it and still profit.
The void created at the top by the departure of the car manufactures was occupied by the next ones in line, the big privateer teams that in reality aren't real teams in the sense that they do not have a sports director who hires the most gifted drivers to fly their colours, but instead are acting a bit more like a "rent-a-car", where the drivers who have the necessary amount of money go to rent the best car they can and enter the races. This is not necessarily bad, as many more drivers have access to the top vehicles available at a given time, and also the competition becomes more levelled, allowing some of the best privateers to have a real chance of getting a good result. But on the opposite side, when it’s only money that comes into play, it can mean that the hands holding the wheel aren't the most gifted and the sport can become a bit boring... or (more) dangerous. Do not get us wrong, for us anyone racing in cross-country rallies is very welcome, for one simple reason: they love the same sport as us and are helping to keep it alive. But we do need the official structures returning.
In the end, the inexistence of official teams is not good, causing the competitors, the organizers and even the governing bodies to lose the focus a little bit, the shrinking of the sport, and also causing some confusion, like for example may races overlapping each other. Those teams always worked as guides and pace setters and the others behind put an extra effort to catch and follow them. Even for the drivers, to be invited to be part of an official team was a career goal, that now doesn't exist anymore - they simply need to have pockets deep enough.
The actual path is probably not wrong, but it is also not the most correct. The entities that govern this sport, either internationally or at national level, and all the rest of us that are directly or indirectly involved in the sport must figure out something that, on the one hand, catches more public attention, and that, on the other hand, can convince the manufacturers to return. We can't hide the problems or challenges we face, otherwise in the not too distant future we will see our beloved sport vanishing like a sand dune in the desert blown by the wind.
To finish, let’s returning to the title of this post, the "Era of Rent-a-Car". The path the sport followed took us here, and maybe this is the best solution at the moment to keep the sport alive, competitive and interesting. And we know that time doesn't roll back, so it is pointless to keep mentioning the past. But it could be very good for the sport if we could get the attention of the manufacturers again and attract some of them into the sport as it would benefit us all.
The Rally-Raid Network
Some weeks ago, the news popped that the Dakar Rally will finally leave South America to discover other landscapes. Actually this was not totally “new” news, it has been expected for quite some time, and after the problems around the location of the 2019 edition it became clear that the organizers can’t and won’t be made hostages of the governments of South America one more time, no matter how huge the fan and participant base was in the region.
The southern tip of Africa was then returned to the news in first place, after some news and documentation had surfaced in Angola. This was not a new possibility because some years ago it already had been around, but now it showed up in more detail, with a possible route crossing Angola, Namibia and South Africa.
Other possibilities are also not new, like an eventual return to Algeria and Tunisia. But what really made the news was the very strong possibility of the 2020 edition of Dakar Rally could go to Saudi Arabia and spend the next five years there. Jordan and Egypt could join in this project, if not in the first “Arabian” edition, maybe in the later ones.
This week rumours returned strongly , with a “near confirmation” of the news we reported some weeks ago, about the change of location for the hardest rally of the world. From ASO, the organizer of Dakar Rally there is an almost complete black out, with an exception of the news of the change in the rally direction, that is now in the hands of David Castera, after the leaving of Etienne Lavigne.
The lack of official information about next year’s edition is a strong sign that something very serious is going on, otherwise the route should already have been announced. This gives credit to the news of the Saudi deal, that allegedly will mean a payment of USD 15 million per edition by Saudi Government to ASO during the next 5 years. Some bits of information that arrived to us tell that a team is already on the ground working on the route, which should not be a surprise, are they in Saudi Arabia or somewhere else, because the clock is running fast.
But our post pretends not to speak about the route details of the next edition, but more about the implications for the race and sports in a light way and with the necessary distance of someone who doesn’t have all the information.
After 10 editions in South America, the Dakar Rally had become the biggest sports event on the continent, no matter in which country it was held. It gave a huge boost to the local teams, that during this time had the possibility to enter, and gradually replaced the Europeans, especially the amateurs with less resources. We are curious to see if the organizers now arrange a scheme to bring the South Americans to the Middle East like they did for the Europeans to go to South America, or if they will leave them alone after they had become an important “life line” to the rally.
Dakar also leaves behind a continent that offers the most varied types of terrain, from the deserts of Peru and Chile (remember the descent of Iquique or the huge Peruvian dunes), across the Bolivian Altiplano and the amazing Salar de Uyuni, and into Argentina where so many amazing sceneries where showed to us like the majestic white dunes of Fiambala.
Common in all countries of South America was the amazing fan base, that supported the rally all along the way like nowhere else. The more “purist” of the sport will say that Dakar should mean isolation and separation… could be, but the security feeling is something that is not easy to achieve in our times, and it is a very big issue that was under control in South America.
Finally, Dakar leaves behind a politically instable region, where politicians change their minds faster than we can count until ten. What is true and valid now, is not anymore after just a short time. And from a point of view of an organizer with such a big responsibility, this can’t be viable, due to uncertainty that it adds to the equation.
The pros and the cons of South America are much likely to be a part of the past now, and the 1001 sand dunes of Saudi Arabia could be on the path of the participants of the hardest rally of the world.
But like a desert, 2020 Dakar and the following ones, will not be a paved road. Some very complicated challenges, specially cultural and political will need to be handled with extreme care.
We aren’t being discriminative, not at all. We wish an amazing rally, but we can’t hide the elephant in the room. It’s no secret to anyone that there is a huge cultural gap between a not only the occidentals, but also others and the Saudis, and this can raise some complicated questions to a big part of the participants or people involved into the rally. Many details must be taken into account by all parties involved, even us as media who report about the rally, to guarantee that the race respects the locals, but also to make the locals understand their visitors and accept them, even if they are different or have different habits.
It’s clear that such a big investment on the rally means that Saudi government wants to show an open and modern country, that is following a path of reforms and pretends to have become more open to the rest of the world.
We are still curious to see how the political struggles in the region will play on all of this. Especially if the “complicated” relations with Qatar can cause problems for a number of competitors, including the defending champion , in extreme (and hopefully extremely unlikely) case even forcing him out of the race, being banned from entering Saudi Arabia.
On a more positive note, Saudi Arabia could mean a particularly good opportunity for the rally to put an end to comments that say that it had lost great part of the “elan” it had before moving to South America.
Saudi Arabia is an “uncharted” territory for the rally and for almost all of us. The vastness of the country offers so many new possibilities for routes that the guys in charge of the roadbook should feel like kids in a playground full of new toys. And if we add Egypt and Jordan to the equation then things will become even more interesting. The desert lovers will have plenty to enjoy in the region, and can forget about the rally roads of Argentina, the cold mountains of Bolivia, or the dusty dunes of Peru.
The “Arabian” deal also means a pretty nice income of dollars by ASO. The critics will now jump fast telling that the organizers only care about the money they can make. We don’t follow this path, because we do understand that ultimately the Dakar is a business, and as a business it should make money. But what we do hope is that this huge “oxygen balloon” could be used to raise the profile of the race, helping more people to enter, offering better conditions and specially lowering the entry fees, that are prohibitively high and leave many out.
For the participants, especially Europeans, the Middle East seems to be more accessible than South America. Much likely the costs for the teams will be lower, due to the much likely government support, and the visas and transfers could also be facilitated. And we must not forget that in the region there are a lot of rally drivers, many of them very well equipped, and they could be waiting for a chance to race the Dakar. We expect this to materialize in an increase of the number of participants, for luse losing many South American, but gaining in teams from the Middle East.
Before finishing our post we want to say again, that until now, there is no official announcement from ASO about the location for 2020 Dakar yet. For the moment we can only speculate, and until ASO finally revealls their plans everything can happen. Who knows if the rally goes somewhere else or if it remains in South America.
Despite all the problems the Dakar Rally suffered in the past editions, it still is the race almost everyone wishes to enter at least once but this is a feeling that is or at least was disappearing for several known reasons. The relocation of the rally could show up as an extremely good opportunity to recover at least part of what was lost and can help to rebuild the image of the event as the last of the greatest challenges a sportsman or sportswoman could dream to tackle.
As for us, we simply wish for a great race, in Saudi Arabia, in South America, in the Sahara or even in the Antartica.
The Rally-Raid Network
Saudi Arabia? Angola? Algeria? Staying in South America? Moving somewhere else?... How many options (and problems) more for the world's biggest motorsport event?
If you are following us for some time it's very likely that you remember the "telenovela" posts we published last year in this blog about the 2019 Dakar Rally, and the uncertainty with constant evolutions forward and backwards with the eventual route. The "path" to Dakar 2019 was quite complicated: first was Argentina, then Chile and finally Bolivia that pulled out before leaving Peru alone in the role of the host country. Colombia and Equador also showed up in this real South American telenovela, given as strong possibilites to host the rally. But prior to the final revelation, at some point in time, even the return to Africa was a strong possibility with several routes in study, or at least being mentioned.
For this year and the next Dakar Rally edition, the situation isn't different, there are many rumours, comments, news, social media posts about the new edition, but this time most of these "news" point to just one new destination: the Middle East, with a route drawn in Saudi Arabia, that could also be joined by Jordan and Egypt in 2020 or in future editions, since the rumour that is circulating says that the Dakar Rally stays in the region for 5 years.
But our readers must keep in mind some older news. The most recent "developments" completely obliterated a previous news about the Angolan Federation who is discussing the prospect of hosting the Dakar Rally. While the "Arabian version" is based on social media posts, the source of the "Angolan version" is an official document from the local Federation, inviting its members for a meeting where hosting the 2020 Dakar rally was a point in the discussion.
These two 2020 hosting candidates (Angola on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other) made everybody forget that South America could probably still have something to offer. Let's not forget that the fan base there is huge, the passion for the sport is incomparable and that many options could still be open. On the other hand, South American crews are giving an increasing proportion of the entries of the Dakar Rally. The countries of this region already know the pros and cons of hosting or not hosting the rally, and for sure many people are working hard to keep the rally there.
Another option no so often in the news and most of the time under the radar is Algeria. Remember that last year this country was on the "unofficial" list of candidates to host the rally, and it is still probably there. Algeria is vast, stretching from the Mediterranean into deep into the Sahara Desert, was already visited in the past, and could offer an amazing scenery for the "world's hardest rally".
What seems to be completely out of the options list is the return to the old path, with Morocco, Mauretania and Senegal, since there is already a race on that route in the same time.
ASO, like in all the other years keeps being silent. The waves of "news" come and go, but the French organizers keep all in secret until the official announcement day. For sure we can speculate, and where is smoke, there surely must be fire, but until the owners of the race speak out, we can't really be 100% sure.
All options offer challenges, for example South America's main problem is the lack of will of the local governments to pay the sums ASO asks, in Saudi Arabia money is no problem at all, but the clash of cultures could pose some issues, in Angola budget could also be a problem and route with little sand areas even if crossing Namibia in a loop that includes South Africa could not please to all participants. Finally Algeria, which is not really in the rumours this year and probably is even out of the options, is undergoing an electoral process and is not the most stable and secure, even if the local authorities are trying hard to keep everything under control.
For us as fans the most important is that the 2020 Dakar Rally could be once again a great race, full of challenges, drama, small and big vitories. For some the race is a life's dream, for others a career objective, and for other is like an annual pergrination. But for all it is surely one of the most, if not the most amazing race in the world and one of the few real challenges modern days offer, in an era dominated by techonlogy and gadgets.
Let's hope that ASO finds a great solution, no matter where it is, and that in January 2020 all the emotions return.
This year's Dakar Rally with its duration of just 10 days looked like a walk in the park, especially when compared to the extra long 2018 edition that celebrated the 40th anniversary of the race with 14 racing days. The critics that year after year continue to make from this race their "most beloved hate" were fast to jump in a choir of critics. One detail was missing in the critics... last year in the 4 initial stages held in Peru carnage was wide spread among the caravan that was surprised by an extremely nasty and unforgiving terrain that claimed many racers’ dreams, from the top to the bottom of the classifications. By the time the race left Peru the caravan looked like they came out of the fight with a big cat, full of scratches and scars all over the place.... and then came Bolivia, but that is another story.
This year the prospect of "just" 10 days of race made many to think that the race will be easier, that the standard has dropped and that this wasn't even the hardest race of the world any more... but again, the race is 100% Peru... just like the organization says.
The first stage with 84km (the longest first stage in Dakar history) was like a very soft introduction. The second one dropped the participants in the middle of the Peruvian desert with all the benefits: sand, stones, heat and dust... tons and tons of dust like nowhere else on earth. From that point until now the detail that pops out in every single image is the dust: white dust, brown dust, yellow dust, grey dust... We already had our fair share of "racing dust" but like this we never saw.
The long stages in such a demanding terrain like the Peruvian desert are already a big challenge. The dust adds such a nasty extra layer of difficulties that to be able to reach the halfway mark in this race is already a big achievement.
The participants and their mechanics are "enjoying" maybe the most difficult South American Dakar ever, that seems like not being marked by rain, like many of the recent editions, of which some stages were even cancelled due to the wet conditions, but by the extreme dryness of the Peruvian ground.
The race continues for 5 more days until the arrival back in Peru's capital Lima. The conditions are expected to improve a little bit as the route moves to areas with less dust and more sand, but the dust clouds will still be there. Remembering the Portuguese legend of King Sebastian, who is still expected home after vanishing in the Moroccan fog hundreds of years ago, maybe all the ones that will be able to emerge from this year's Dakar dust in Lima on Thursday could be crowed Kings of the Dakar Rally in one of its most intense and hardest editions until now, even if it had the shortest distance ever.
Photo ASO / @World / Charly Lopez