It is Friday the 13th, also in the Dakar in Saudi Arabia. For the second time, Igor Bouwens has watched the sun set on the dunes of the Empty Quarter, the world's second largest desert after the Sahara. His truck is still in the same place. Repairs will continue through the coming night.
The Dakar only really begins when you have to give up, the cliché goes. The Gregoor Racing Team also experienced that. After giving up on Thursday - the truck was stuck in the dunes with a broken drive shaft - Igor Bouwens, Syndiely Wade and Ulrich Boerboom had to spend the night in the desert.
Friday morning at 4 a.m. Operation Salvage began: Gregoor, Benny, Boery, Theo, Walter and Marc began a 250-kilometer drive. Due east, facing the rising sun. Sunrise over the giant dunes of the Empty Quarter, a magnificent spectacle. After three hours of driving, it was broad daylight and they were at the border with Oman, 40 kilometers from Igor's Iveco T-Way. It didn't get any closer. The plan was to find a local driver with off-road knowledge and a decent pickup. He needed to get a new drive shaft and some mechanics up to Igor's place. But the Empty Quarter did not steal its name: it is empty, no people live there, and thus no pickups drive around. The only locals we encountered were Pakistanis working in gas and oil extraction. The competition trucks we met all had broken leaf springs and didn't want to go back into the dunes, happy to have gotten out after a long night.
But it's okay to be lucky. ASO, the organizer of the Dakar, was working to get the stranded vehicles from stage 11 out of the dunes. We managed to convince those in charge that truck number 534 no longer needed attention if it could get a cardan. After some persuasion, they were willing to use a helicopter to do so. Dimensions and weight of the universal joints were passed on and finally Alberto, the Italian pilot of the Ecureuil, had the last word. The jolly Alberto went for an espresso first, but then wanted to fly.
At that point, we didn't know which cardan was broken. The rear one is fairly easy to replace, the front one requires more and heavier work. We gave two pieces. But we did know that getting an extra mechanic on site would be helpful. After many fives and sixes, Alberto - and the Dakar course management - was willing to take Benny along. One condition: insurance-wise we were not allowed to have four in the race truck and so co-pilot Syndiely had to return with the helicopter. So player change as in soccer: Benny in, Syn out.
Benny had never flown in a helicopter before and was explained in a crash course how to kick out the door in case of a crash. If he stepped out after landing, the Ecureuil's propeller would still be turning. He had to duck and - very importantly - he had to keep the cardans horizontal. Otherwise it would spin in the soup above him... At 9 o'clock Benny, the cardans and some tools were with Igor, who still could not be reached by phone. Fifteen minutes later, Syndiely was with us.
Syn managed to tell us that the front cardan was the culprit. A setback: even with Benny there, Ulrich and Igor would have their hands full with the job, to be done in the loose sand, with limited tools and no jack. Second problem: if the truck got repaired, Igor still had to find a way out of the terrible dunes, without Syndiely's expert navigation, without a roadbook and without other trucks to pull them loose from the loose sand.
So we set out again anyway in search of a local rescue team. After a long search, we found it at the start of Friday's ride. A dune guide from Oman was there barefoot on a tour with two Danish tourists. He knew a colleague from Oman who could help. A phone call later, two guys showed up, also barefoot, with a Jeep Wrangler. In exchange for a full tank of gas they were willing to help us. Gasoline costs 57 cents per liter here.
Around noon, the five of them drove into the dunes: the two Omani in the Jeep, and Syndiely, Boery and Theo in our rental car, a Toyota Fortuner, loaded with some more tools. Gregoor, Walter and Marc stayed behind at the assistance truck.
After hours of waiting, lonely in the blazing sun in the now completely Empty Quarter (because the Dakar was, in the meantime, a long way away), they suddenly got in touch with Tom Colsoul, the man who makes the roadbook for ASO. The cars had reached the truck in the meantime, he knew, but a crucial key was missing: socket size 19. Normally not needed, but apparently with the new version of the cardan it is. A line through the bill. Hours of lost time, because the cars would have to drive back and forth, twice 40 kilometers through the toughest dunes.
Five to four by now. The sun was already turning red over the dunes when, above the peaks, a helicopter came flying in, tightly in our direction. In a huge cloud of dust, it landed next to our truck. A man wearing a yellow shirt with Dakar logos and inscription "medical" got out and walked crouched under the spinning propeller in our direction. "Allen 19 please." Touring Roadside Assistance is fast in Saudi Arabia. But just as quickly, the sun was sinking over the sand. For the second time already for Igor, Syndiely and Ulrich.
The state of play, at 6 p.m. local time near the Oman border: six men (and perhaps the two guides from Oman?) at the truck in the middle of giant dunes, with lots of work ahead, with food and drink, but only three tents and no phone coverage. 40 kilometers away, on a dried-up lake at the edge of the dunes: three men by the assistance truck, with no tent but food and drink, toilet, shower and 4G. Waiting for what is to come, whatever that may be.
More news as soon as we get it ourselves.
Automatic translation from the original Dutch version
Source Gregoor Racing Team