Tuesday, January 13th, 2009 - Nexus MG
Team Rally Australia and motorbike rider Christophe Barriere-Varju have reached the half way point of the Dakar Rally 2009. With more than 7 days left to ride, Christophe and the team hope and pray for a better second half than the demanding, unpredictable and very unlucky first 7 stages.

The change of location for the 2009 Dakar Rally certainly hasn’t left behind the grueling and arduous challenges that face the competitors every minute of every stage. This could not be more evident for the Australian team and rider Christophe, as his daily update reports to his support team back in Australia show:

Day 1 – dust, dust and more dust, not good for the bike’s mechanics and engine operation, or being able to see and navigate at high speeds in tough terrain
Day 2 – Broken rear suspension on bike, making travelling very difficult and uncomfortable
Day 3 – Broken engine requiring running repairs from the support truck, losing a lot of time to make it to the checkpoint
Day 4 – Broken starter motor, having to repair this as I ride with the support team and lose a lot of time
Day 5 – Navigation GPS machine losing connection and not working in mountainous sand dunes, fatality of French rider announced
Day 6 – Twice-broken fuel line, lost valuable time
Day 7 – Toughest stage of the course with many drivers not making checkpoint. 140km of deep sand ruts.

Saturday’s rest day was welcomed by the team as they quickly reflected on the past seven days before completing repairs and maintenance ahead of the remaining stages.

The first four stages of the Rally were a battle with conditions. The dust on the course, brought about by the intense traffic flow, tested Christophe’s patience and finding the optimum speed to safely navigate the stages was a major challenge. Christophe had to push hard to ensure that he was not placed in any danger from cars passing him at high speeds.

Visibility was not the only problem the dust was causing - equipment began to suffer as dust got inside his engine and carburetor. Constant cleaning was not enough to stop Christophe struggling on stage 3, only able to have two speeds idle or full throttle as the dust managed to seriously disrupt the fuel and air mixture. Christophe continued into the sand dunes, unsure if he would make it out due to the extreme mechanical issues. He wasn’t to know that this was only a minor setback compared to what would lie ahead.

“Pushing into the sand dunes on stage 5, the GPS attached to the bike failed after running on back up battery all day,” explains Christophe. Left only to his road book and the landscape surrounding him, Christophe faced some tough decisions in order to make it to the checkpoint before worsening weather set in at nightfall.

“I decided to follow the existing tracks of previous riders, aware that they may have been lost as well. I knew the exit point was about 4km away, but had no idea where. The only thing I knew was that I had to make it to a mountain.”
Christophe climbed the next sand dune and managed to sight the mountain he was looking for. Deciding to figure out his own way there but dangerously low on fuel, he managed to find tracks used by local riders and followed them before reaching a crossroad. Assuming the town must be in the valley, he headed towards it. Ten minutes later he found the checkpoint and successfully registered the completion of the stage.

The team was one of the lucky ones, with many riders not completing this stage and forced to light fires in the dunes to last through the night. As stage 6 got underway, riders were still completing stage 5 and some just simply pulled out whilst others collected the next road book and set out once again.

The Dakar is truly a test of physical and mental strength, emphasized by the riders consuming up to 7 litres of water per day on various stages and climbing up the Andes to reach 3000m above sea level.

Team Rally Australia would like to thank all the Australians that have been following the journey, and ensure that your messages of support and strength are being heard and are assisting the team to navigate each stage.

Keep an eye out for stages 9, 10 and 11 - as Christophe puts it, “these are the breakers”.

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Luke Jenkinson

P: 07 3411 4848
M: 0413 180 455
W: www.teamrallyaustralia.com

Keywords

Christophe Barriere-Varju, rider for Team Rally Australia has survived a host of dangerous conditions and problems such as a broken GPS and failing motorbike engine to reach the half way point of the Dakar Rally 2009.

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