Rally Dakar 2017 | Beware of the Three Exclamation Marks!
My stories / 14. February 2017
Racers have to thoroughly prepare and learn a route that awaits them before each stage of the Dakar Raid. These races are not only challenging physically but mentally as well, and in addition to the actual skills on the track, theoretical training also plays an essential role.
“The navigation was very difficult this year. I made several mistakes just like other racers did, but I learned a lot.“
The evening before the third stage in Argentina, Števo’s manager showed up and told him to mark three exclamation marks in his roll book at the 159th kilometre. Racers do this to identify dangerous sections, whereby one exclamation marks shows minor hazard, two means that the racer has to slow down a little, and three means to drive almost at walking speed. The Roll Book is a mandatory equipment of each racer, which helps to prevent accidental falls.
“In reality however, a giant hole appeared one kilometre before I marked the three exclamation marks and I ran to it at 130 kilometres per hour. I was lucky, it kicked me out of the motorbike, but instead of hitting a rock I fell on the motorbike, which was still in motion, and then went down with it. I was scratched, but nothing serious happened to me.“
Števo strayed off the track more often this year than previous years, but he was not the only one. Every racer got lost now and then, because the organisers changed the conditions of use of navigation. Each racer has to calculate exactly where he is at any given moment and what direction to go.
“I eventually came to a riverbed with two different paths, and I did not know where to go. Right or left? Naturally, I chose wrong. The correct route was not marked as good as in the previous years, and some racers wandered for 20 minutes or some even for much longer.“
Racers who went first had the worst conditions. When they found the right route, those behind just followed the tracks they left that led them in the right direction. However, racers starting last also strayed off the track often, because they were confused by tonnes of different tracks made by the previous racers.
“Each racer welcomes the neutralisation zone after a difficult stage as most of them are 70km long, and this zone lasts for an hour and a half. Everyone can rest here mentally and physically.“
The neutralisation zone divides the race into two sections and passes through an area that is not part of the race itself. For example, it includes areas with monuments, and racers just drive by on regular asphalt road.
„A fuel station was located in this zone, where many racers refuelled like I did. I had to because the tank was nearly empty and only later I learned that this was not allowed. Honda’s racers were given a penalty for this refuelling, and of course, they gave the others away. They downloaded my GPS and found out that I was there as well.“