Leg 7: La Paz > Uyuni (Leg: 727km / Stage: 425km)

Marathon Leg – Part 1: the key role of co-drivers

After the dunes that marked the opening week of the Dakar, torrential rain during the seventh day of action en route from La Paz to Uyuni produced some awesome mud baths, along with the region’s notorious camel grass. The day’s 727km run across the Bolivian Altiplano incorporated 425 against-the-clock kilometres over which the co-drivers’ ability to read the terrain was repeatedly put to the test to avoid getting stuck in the mud, especially as visibility was seriously impaired by the atrocious weather.

After the crucial role they played in Week 1’s sand dunes, where careful attention to the roadbook was vital, the co-drivers had another decisive role to play on the first part of the marathon stage, since no outside assistance was permitted on Saturday evening, except for the crews own resources and those of their service vehicles entered in either the T2 or T4 class. It was consequently necessary to strike the ideal balance between speed and reliability, and one of the co-drivers’ tasks was to help the drivers pace themselves.

“The co-driver has to cover both bases, in equal measure,” notes yachtswoman and former competitor Florence Migraine who works as a guide on the Dakar. “You’ve got to read both the roadbook and the road itself to help your driver to be fast yet also safe.”

“In addition to their navigational skills, a good co-driver must also be a handy mechanic and not be fazed by speed. It’s never good for a driver’s confidence when the person in the other seat is grabbing the roll cage and pressing on an imaginary brake pedal,” adds Stephan Schott who used to compete for X-Raid. “Co-drivers need to manage their driver and their emotions.”

“You need to support your driver when the going gets tough and relieve any pressure by carefully announcing the corners and hazards to channel his energy,” observes Eugénie Decré who sits alongside Jérôme Pélichet in the N°330 car. “You need to use words he can take in easily. It’s all about communication.”

Eugénie believes you can use the energy inside the car to create an osmosis – a case of “1+1 = 3” – which is why so many famous crews remain together for so long. She believes a sort of alchemy develops which helps prepare the mind. “Every day,” says Eugénie, “we work on our objectives before the start in a state of modified consciousness using a neuro-linguistic programming technique developed by Robert Dilts to calm any tension and build confidence. We use keywords of our internal language to motivate each other before stages, as well as on the stage in order to keep the energy flowing, and then after the finish to share what we felt and remain in the present. You can’t hold back any personal frustrations that might resurface in the car which is such a confined environment.”

This technique keeps morale high during the tougher moments (at 9pm, only 33 cars had shown up in Uyuni) and keep it that way. It’s only on Sunday evening that the mechanics will be able to get their hands back on the cars after Stage 8 (498km, the longest of the rally) ends in Tupiza where the crews can look forward to a revitalizing massage, too!

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