David Castera: „The most beautiful and spectacular Dakar in three years“

David, you’re just back from a reconnaissance trip – what can you tell us ?

I’m very enthusiastic – we’ve found some ’new‘ aspects in both Chile and Argentina. The route will be magnificent – certainly the most beautiful and spectacular in three years ! In Chile, we’ll be going still further North, it’s totally barren, and very fast, with breathtaking scenery. There’ll be a lot of sand – even more than last year ! In Argentina too, we’ve got specials that are 100% new, and an extremely varied pace, it’s going to be fabulous for drivers. To sum up, our remit was to seek out what is both most beautiful and best-suited to competitors in all three categories.

Do you think the Dakar 2011 will be difficult ?

The level of difficulty will increase as we go along, this really is what we wanted to do for 2011. The race will be long, there’ll be quite a lot of off-track and navigation in Chile, even more dunes and sand than last year. Competitors will also have less markers to guide them, because there’ll be a lot that’s new.

Could you tell us more about the new rule concerning navigation ?

 For a start, I want to specify that the new WPM (Hidden Waypoint) range of 400 metres instead of 3 kilometres only concerns a few of the points, not all ! The idea is to return the starring role to navigation and reading of the road book. The role of co-drivers will be vital. We mustn’t lose sight of the spirit of the competition – the Dakar must not be a race that’s all about speed.

How are you getting ready for the race ?

Reconnaissance is being carried out over several trips – at least 4 journeys of 3 weeks. The route represents almost 100 days of work with a team of professionals, three cars and a truck at all times. We take with us the very latest navigation and mapping systems. The days are long – we’re on the road by 6 am and we stop just before nightfall. Afterwards, it’s debriefing time, and we prepare the next day’s work.

Will there still be twin-tracked sections of specials, for each category ?

Yes ! This is a system which works well, we’ll be doing it right from the start of the rally (thus avoiding problems related to overtaking between categories) but the idea is to take it still further – for example, special sections which are absolutely fantastic for motorcyclists. The route will separate again, so that the motorcyclists can really experience a magical moment .

David – you’ve said a lot about the measures against unofficial assistance – what’s the real story ?

This is a sensitive and important issue. Several measures will be set up, a team of 12 people and 6 vehicles will have particular responsibility for the assistance category, and their role is perfectly clear: they must check that every person and every vehicle present at the bivouac are duly accredited. Access will be reinforced, and without accreditation it will be very difficult to approach the bivouac. In addition, for reasons of safety and fluidity of circulation, some routes will be specially reserved for accredited vehicles.

The Route and the Environment

Aware as always of the need for the rally raid to respect natural sites, the Dakar organisers have approached the authorities of the countries crossed to bring them into the route reconnaissance process.

In order to abide as firmly as possible by the rules of environmental protection, the team of Etienne Lavigne and David Castera did the second reconnaissance tour with representatives of the National Committee for Chilean Monuments (CNM) and, of Chile’s National Environmental Agency (CONAMA). Being the country with the biggest off-road sections of the rally raid, Chile is – indeed – quite concerned by the Dakar crossing its territory, whilst the part of the rally taking place in Argentina is mainly happening on existing trails and tracks.

As it were, the reconnaissances organised during the whole of 2010 have completely integrated the environmental data in the loop. Indeed, after a first reconnaissance phase in April aimed at producing a first draft route for the 2011 rally raid, David Castera handed in the said draft in May to two governmental bodies for them to produce a pre-assessment of the intended route of the upcoming Dakar.

Then, at the end of June, Etienne Lavigne and David Castera drove – for 10 days – two archaeologists and a palaeontologist of the CNM, as well as two CONAMA representatives on a physical reconnaissance tour of the intended route, in order for them to deliver a final validation this time…

Once final validation will have been achieved and some possible amendments made to the route, the reconnaissance for the event proper will be allowed to start in September in order to define and draft the road book; this third reconnaissances phase will be longer but shall remain under the supervision and cooperation of the authorities. „It is really great to see that the governments are keen on pushing their cooperation with our teams further”, says Etienne Lavigne. “Their presence is absolutely necessary when we are defining the route. We are doing our very best to care for the environment and to make sure that the sites we are driving through will be protected from the identification of the route onwards, but on the matter, the support of the governmental authorities is always a big plus.“

Assistance Information

Below, you’ll find an extract from the Dakar 2011 regulations to be published in September, regarding assistance vehicles:

  1. The following vehicles are accepted in the assistance category:

    a) Production off-road 4X4 vehicles, petrol or diesel.

    b) Production off-road trucks over 3.5 tonnes, in compliance with the T4 Truck regulations, even without F.I.A. homologation

    c) SUVs and „all terrain“ vehicles, as well as 4×4 vans. These vehicles must apply to the Dakar Sporting Department for acceptance, enclosing a photo of the vehicle (with legible registration plate) and a photocopy of the car’s registration document.

    d) Camper vans and mobile homes, even with 2 wheel-drive. These vehicles must apply to the ASO Sporting Department for acceptance, enclosing a photo of the vehicle (with legible registration plate) and a photocopy of the car’s registration document. The organiser cannot, however, be held responsible in the event that such vehicles find themselves unable to access certain bivouacs.
    For this category, a special price of 2,500€ for the vehicle fee has been provided by the organisation. The individual entry fee remains unchanged.

These vehicles cannot be authorised, under any circumstances, to use the route of the selective sections.

  1. The following vehicles are forbidden in the assistance category:

    a) Semi-trailers
    b) Trailers.
    c) 2 wheel-drive vehicles (with the exception of camper vans and mobile homes)

    Further to the presence of numerous unaccredited assistance vehicles on the Dakar 2010, the organization has decided to set up a team in charge of the assistance vehicles’ control for the Dakar 2011. Any racing competitor benefiting from any help or assistance from a person or a vehicle not registered throughout the organization will be excluded from the moment the infraction is noticed by the authorized staff.

    The crew in charge of the “non-authorized” assistance control will consist on 4 cars and 14 persons, 6 of them will be present every day on the bivouac.