Words by Carine Reyneke & Images by BF Goodrich
Winner of our BF Goodrich competition, Carine Reyneke, was whisked off to charge about the dunes of Namibia in a Dakar rally car prepped for the Redlined Motorsport team. This is her story…
The GPS showed that the Coke can was about half a kilometre straight ahead of where we were, but the afternoon heat had made the dune sand soft and treacherous. After the second unsuccessful attempt to go straight up the windward (the more gradual) side of the dune, we had to find a way around it.
We were in a Dakar Rally race-ready Nissan Navara, playing not far from Walvis Bay in the giant sandpit that is the Namib Desert. And, after a few days of racing up, down and sideways on dunes, deliberately getting the vehicles stuck, digging them out and even jumping them, it was now time for the final challenge.
Our Namibian hosts had hidden a few cans of Coke in the desert and brought back the coordinates. Our task was to fetch them. (The Coke cans, not the coordinates).
“I can run 500 m,” I told Luke, one of the rally drivers who is in training for Dakar 2018. Secretly, I was a bit scared that we’d get properly stuck in the sand and have to dig the car out.
“Naaaah. We have a car; let’s drive there,” he insisted.
We had just spent three days learning to ‘read’ the lie of the dunes, how to pick a possible line to get to the top of the dunes, and what to expect on the other side, so we surely had the skills to fetch a hidden can of Coke.
And we certainly had one of the best four-wheeled tools for the job. These cars are custom-built to race the Dakar Rally in South America. The chassis are custom designed and hand-made, fitted with powerful V8 engines and with the fuel consumption to match.
Typical of a rally car, the insides look very basic: don’t expect to be able to stream music from your iPhone. Nothing is lying loose, and everything has a specific function. There may be tools strapped into the door for easy access if you have to change a tyre.
Dakar Rally Ready Gallery
Don’t expect mats on the floor; and don’t look too concerned if the driver gets into the car, strap himself in, and only then notices that the steering wheel is lying on the floor and clips it in quickly. The most complicated items are the electronic gauges which measure everything necessary to monitor the car’s health and performance, and give early warning of any mechanical component that is operating outside its parameters.
The drivers come to this spot in Namibia to learn how to drive in the sand, how to pick lines through the dunes, and how to recover once they are stuck.
Even though only a small percentage of the Dakar Rally is on sand, the time that could be lost if you damage the car or get stuck too often, or for too long, is big enough to cost you the race.
The speed at which one should crest the dune is crucial. Too fast, and you may cartwheel over the other side; too slow, and you won’t make it or will get stuck at the top.
It’s hard to judge, as these cars are built for speed, and there is no low-range gearing, which makes recovery a bit trickier than with my Jimny. One of the rules is that the driver needs to get off the clutch as soon as possible.
So, after three days of playing in these vehicles in the sand while getting to know the limitations and possibilities, we had come down to a final test: we were searching for Coke cans hidden in the desert.
After a lot of practice, I knew that we could recover the car if we got stuck during our quest.
But Luke picked the perfect line, and when we drove past the dune, we could see the Coke can lying in the sand, hidden behind the crest of the dune.
We turned around, I got out quickly to fetch the can, and we started the drive back through the dunes to base camp with our trophy. Mission accomplished.
Read Carine Reyneke’s winning story about her slow way down to Khubu Island, by clicking here.