Organizer Gert Duson looks ahead to Tunisia Desert Challenge: “Very proud of what we have achieved”
In Djerba, the final preparations are made for the start of the second Tunisia Desert Challenge. Organizer Gert Duson looks ahead and is proud of what will happen this week in Tunisia: "It is unbelievable what we have achieved here in six months."
Usually there is a year between two editions of a rally, but after the debut in Tunisia in November, organizer Gert Duson wanted to go to the spring with the Tunisia Desert Challenge. Where the first edition was one for adventurers, all registers have been pulled out to make the second TDC a big spectacle. "Normally I spend a year preparing for a rally, but it all had to go very quickly," Duson says. “A lot was involved, we had to arrange five charter flights. There were no boats, no flights and no helicopters.”
Those efforts have paid off. “The fact that we are here with twice as many people as in November indicates that it has been discussed. We have hardly publicized it, we have not made any presentations in the different countries. But it's a small world and people really enjoyed the first edition in November. I don't think it's surprising in that regard that we would have so many people the next edition, but of course it went very quickly."
Tunisia is popular, Duson notices. He also knows why. “At the end of the previous rally, we polled the participants. Everyone has done Morocco and we asked where they would rather ride. Nearly 60 percent answered that they prefer to drive here in Tunisia. That says a lot. As a tourist you say that Morocco is much more beautiful and that is true, in terms of landscape Morocco is much more beautiful. But the experience of driving here is completely different in Tunisia. This is especially great here for the lighter vehicles with the SSVs and the buggies. Everything is sand, there are no stones. We have a stage of 240 kilometers with no less than 200 kilometers of dunes. In Merzouga you have 30 kilometers of dunes and then Erg Chigaga, but that's about it.”
The highlight of the rally must be the passage through El Borma. In the past, many organizations have tried to get there with the rally, but just as often they failed. Duson did get the green light. “We'll only be there in two days, but on paper it all worked out and I'm very proud of that. There are many who have tried, but I am the first in the last twelve years to gain access to the area. That's not easy. We have set up the first edition and the people of the authorities have realized that we are a serious organization to be reckoned with. Others got zero when they asked the question, but I'm very proud that we got the green light."
The rally starts on Friday with a prologue over about 60 kilometers, after which the race really gets going on Saturday. “The bar is a lot higher, the level of the drivers has increased enormously,” says Duson. “The number of participants is twice as large, there is also much more in terms of material. In fact, it is so much that I even have to adjust bivouacs.” Duson expects it to be a challenging week, especially in the sporting field. “It will be a very tough week, especially for the participants. Tunisia is different, in Morocco you have a lot of stones but it all drives through. Here in the dunes of southern Tunisia you get really soft sand in this heat and many people will have a hard time with that. We have seven sweeper trucks with us for a reason.”
What do the favorites say?
After his victory last year, defending champion Ronald Schoolderman is back at the start. The leader of 4x4 Centrum Ermelo does not want to state a specific goal, but again goes for the highest achievable: “I look back very positively on the previous edition, we have come a long way. And that's not to mention the fact that it was a great battle and we took the win. The course was very challenging and we learned a lot in the dunes, which is exactly why we came. We will take that experience with us again this edition. I don't like to make statements about the target, but we want to ride well every day and have a good time with the mechanics. It's going to be a tough week."
Last year, Eimbert Timmermans was the winner of the trucks. “That first edition was great fun, the atmosphere was very relaxed. Next edition there will be more trucks at the start. If I can finish on the podium that's great, but if I don't, I'm fine with it. Winning was definitely fun for the guys with me in the truck. You have to get used to the dunes here. In November the sand stood in the first small dunes up to the door frame. After that long day with 110 kilometers of dunes, I was used to it. It was doable, but that remains exciting.”
Van den Brink was the strongest in the SSV class in November, but sees that the bar will now be set a lot higher: “Last year we came here for the first time, it was better than Morocco. I think Merzouga is great, but here you have more sand and that is very nice with a buggy. It was built for the dunes. Such a car breaks down much faster on the stones. We had a good time and this rally Erwin is sitting next to me, we always try to train navigators within the team. It will be difficult to drive fast again, but on the other hand we can show something different with a different strategy.”
#Lambilliotte (#302 - Philippe & Maxime Lambilliote) - “We had a good result last year, but this year there are more competitors. So we’re more cautious about predicting the outcome. We hope to finish in the top 5, perhaps even the top 3. But with more competitors, the race will be more complicated, but also more interesting.
The previous TDC had lots of dunes, and hopefully, this edition will be similar to last year, as we really enjoy racing in the dunes. The prologue here is nice. It’s short but dangerous. You can’t afford to make mistakes when driving on the beach, you can’t get too close to the water, otherwise, it can go very wrong. The prologue is the day when you can’t win anything but you can lose everything!”
#Pelichet (#304 Jerome Pelichet & Pascal Larroque) - “I have raced the MDC in the past, but this is the first time we’re at the TDC. However, I’ve been racing in Tunisia for a very long time, in fact since 1993. I’ve done 16 or 17 rallies, and I know the tracks very well. I think the dunes in Tunisia are not very complex, and everything should go smoothly. We’ve been racing for the last 3 years with the Optimus. It’s a two-wheel drive and very good for traversing the dunes. The car is perhaps not so strong on winding tracks but it’s a very comfortable car, which for me as I’m getting older suits me perfectly.”
#Pol Tarres - “This is my first rally, and I’m very excited to be here. I think the TDC is a really good opportunity for me to learn and to see what rally racing is all about. I want to enjoy myself while trying to do the best I can. I’ve come here to train as I need to learn a lot and ride the Yamaha Tenere 700 Rally World as much as possible. We need to try out the bike in challenging conditions, and we think the TDC is a very hard rally because of the sand and the endless dunes. I used to race extreme enduro, but now I want to race rallies and I have a very good feeling with this bike. The Yamaha Tenere 700 World Rally is something special, I really love it. Whether extreme enduro or rally, racing is my life. We can change the modality, but it’s still racing, it’s always good!”
Tunisia Desert Challenge started with a hard prologue
With a prologue of 56 kilometers, the Tunisia Desert Challenge started on Friday in Djerba. After the traditional group photo on the beach, the participants were allowed to warm up for a long rally week, but the prologue also turned out to be no gift for most.
Friday's prologue consisted largely of dirt tracks with two tricky points in terms of navigation. The test was largely the same as last year's prologue, with the difference that this time it was dry at the turning point at the salt lake. Many motorcyclists had to look for the right track there, but the differences in the other classes also increased considerably.
In the SSV class, the win in the opening test went to Fernando Alvarez from Spain. Together with navigator Xavier Panseri, he made the difference in the second half of the stage. Hans Weijs was in the lead for a long time, but in the end had to leave the victory to Alvarez. He finished second ahead of Janus van Kasteren, who was stable in the top five the entire ride. It was only towards the end that he moved on to third place.
Van Kasteren did this at the expense of Erik van Loon, who lost three minutes searching for a waypoint. “It went well,” says Van Loon, who finished in fourth place just outside the podium. “The buggy is a lot of fun to drive, I enjoyed that. The navigation also went quite well, so we managed to overtake a few others. It's difficult with my eyes, I can't go full because of it. I don't want to take an unnecessary risk, but tomorrow we'll just try it."
In the motorcycle race, the win in the prologue went to Mathieu Doveze from France. He made a nice gap in the last kilometers. He kept Jerome Martiny just over two minutes behind him. Former Yamaha factory rider Alessandro Botturi finished just behind in third place.
Max Harsdorf is the first dropout of the motorcycles. He had to leave the special with a broken gearbox.
Cars and Buggies
The cars too had a French win. Simon Vitse finished fastest in his MD Optimus. He was more than half a minute faster than Philippe Lambilliotte while Guy Housset finished in third place. Jerome Pelichet was fourth ahead of Mike van Eikeren. Vincent Thijs finished in sixth place in the prologue, he gave in just over six minutes to the leader.
In the trucks, reigning champion Eimbert Timmermans took the win. He was no less than eight seconds faster than Steven Rotsaert. Paul Verheyden completed the top three. For Aart Schoones, the rally started with a major setback. He lost a lot of time with suspected motor problems. Belgian truck driver Dave Berghmans also had to leave the test prematurely due to technical problems.
Saturday's second stage goes to Matous, a fast stage of 354 kilometers.
#302 - Philippe & Maxime Lambilliote - Second place today. “We’ve made a couple of small mistakes today, that cost us almost 4 minutes in the end. It’s the first day, so we needed to warm up a bit. The winner of the prologue was very, very quick. He’s a young guy and very fast and he’s got a great car. It’s the first time we race against him. We’ll see what the next day brings. It was a short day but it was nice, good tracks, it was excellent and we loved it.”
#304 Jerome Pelichet & Pascal Larroque - Fourth place. “First of all it was a very nice track today. I’d like to thank the organizer. He gave us a short course with beautiful Tunisian tracks that we hadn't seen for a long time. It was really very pleasant, almost sixty kilometers for a prologue, that’s great. This allows everyone to warm up and to get back into the swing of things. Fourth place is very good for tomorrow, because we won’t have to open. We’re very well placed for the start, it is impeccable for us.”
#216 Hans Weys & Tim Rietveld - Second place. “It was a pretty good start today. We got off to a good start and picked up a good pace. But we had started in sixteenth place, and with only 1 minute interval, we quickly ended up between the slower participants and had quite a lot of dust. As a result, we lost some time. But I think there could be a lot in it for us tomorrow. If we can get past the first car, we certainly will. We are still fairly new to this hobby and Tim has yet to explore navigating a bit. We did the Dakar and this is only our second rally.”
# 303 - Vincent Thijs & Tom De Leeuw - Sixth place. “The prologue was a bit like last year, and it was important to avoid making mistakes, to take all the waypoints, and that worked out quite well. Congratulations to everyone who didn't miss any waypoints because it certainly wasn't easy. It was a good warm-up.”
Source Tunisia Desert Challenge