25-06-2010 – Trail Hunters…

The reconnaissance team led by David Castera has already driven a few thousand kilometres and had some hitches along the way in Argentina and Chile when finishing the reconnaissance of the final route of the Rally Raid. Here is the story of the first reconnaissance tour.

It all starts with a dive into mapping software systems for weeks. The IT tool provides a realistic, a precise vision of the terrain where drivers, riders and teams of the Dakar will fight for victory. The stage cities are chosen on the basis of the software assessment. It is then time to go there and check the consistency of the draft route. This is the purpose of the first series of reconnaissance that was completed a few days ago in Argentina and Chile. David Castera, the race manager, made three stays in the field with the South-American teams of the rally to check all sites and trails on the agenda. Drawn in details after the first round of recce, the route will then be put forward for approval to representatives of the authorities in charge of environmental protection and to associations in charge of protecting archaeological sites. People from both structures shall also ride along with the team for the second run of reconnaissance that will drive the route once again this summer.

As planned, it is in the North of Argentina that David started previewing the route contenders will have to face. Immediately, the “trail hunter” has his first disappointments: “We moved very slowly because a lot of the trails did not exist or would lead us towards hills and mountains that are too high. Eventually we found a pretty wide corridor that will take us to Tucuman and then to Jujuy. In terms of landscapes, I really liked the fairy chimneys that can be seen in the background in the area. The other satisfaction of the beginning of the raid is to reuse the principle of separate stages for bikes and then cars and trucks, with e.g. more technical sections for the two-wheelers.”

For this third Latin-American edition of the raid, the Dakar will pursue its discovery of Chile up to Arica, just a stone’s throw from the Peruvian border. The stay in the Atacama Desert will – once again – be the highlight of the Chilean part of the raid:“Opportunities are almost endless around the two huge sand banks and dunes of Copiapo and Iquique. I keep finding locations each time I go there. The contenders are in for new surprises”, explains Castera talking about the stages designed in the kingdom of off-road rallying.

When inspiration is missing, chance seems to come to the rescue of the reconnaissance team looking for routes that will challenge the contenders on the way back to Buenos Aires: “After a stage where the contenders will have to fight against the white sand dunes in Fiambala, I wanted to keep the bar high and the race intense up to the finish line. But to reach San Juan, I had found nothing but useless or uninteresting trails. I was getting depressed when we met a tour guide specialized in hiking who knows the area like the back of his hand. We had a chat; he called some of his buddies to the rescue and the next day, we were five men looking for the right track for the special stage in question!” With the help of his new improvised recce team mates, David was pretty happy about the gems found by his table neighbours: “In a nutshell, it is really the most beautiful stage of the rally both for the race and for the landscape. It runs through canyons and rios; it plunges into valleys of red rocks… it is simply amazing!”

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