Dakar is so much more than what you see on TV. It is not just a race. Behind every team is a group of anonymous people working hard to make sure the vehicles are in top condition every morning and the racers have every amenity they need. For the Repsol Rally Team, the day at camp starts in the early hours and goes on throughout the day until Isidre Esteve finally hits the hay – or later!
Before he opens his eyes, the Spaniard has his racing gear laid out and his helmet and HANS spotlessly clean and ready for action. Taking care of it all is Lidia Guerrero, his partner, personal trainer and right hand, who also keeps the car's water tanks and electrolyte levels topped up, as well as preparing all the nutritional supplements that both he and his co-pilot Txema Villalobos will need to face the day. “The survival kit includes energy bars, hydrating drinks, protein and more, depending on what each stage of the race demands: duration, weather conditions, difficulty, etc.,” explains Lidia.
Meanwhile, David Pigem, Isidre Esteve's trusted mechanic, thoroughly inspects the car: wheels, petrol, ignition and, in the special case of this Repsol Rally Team racer, charging his Smart Cushion. After all, this special device plays a key role in the Spanish race driver's health, allowing him to drive for hours on end without suffering skin damage, despite having no mobility in his lower limbs due to a spinal injury after a fall during a motorbike competition in 2007.
Pigem takes advantage of every spare moment to talk to co-pilot Txema Villalobos about any technical aspects linked to the upcoming stage of the race that might affect the BV6 prototype, assembled by the French firm Sodicars Racing. “Even the slightest detail, however insignificant it may seem, is crucial in such an extreme race as Dakar, which is very hard on the mechanics,” points out David Pigem.
The time has come for Isidre and Txema to move on to the starting point of the next stage. Before the sound of the engine has faded into the distance, the Repsol Rally Team becomes a hive of activity. “It's time to pack everything up as quickly and carefully as possible, grab a quick bite for breakfast and head off to the next camp site,” explains Lidia Guerrero.
The journey is usually long and wearing. The day often involves driving over 600 kilometres alongside roads parallel to the race course. To make matters worse, the Dakar caravan teams are not allowed to do any more than 90 km/h for safety reasons. “Along the way, we usually stop somewhere with an Internet connection to check their progress and report back to Sandra and Marta, Txema and David's partners who are cheering them on from Spain.”
After hours on the road, the Repsol Rally Team reaches the new site and sets up at the spot allocated by the Dakar organisers. “There are days when this procedure alone takes over half an hour!”, reveals mechanic David Pigem, who quickly begins setting up his repair stand and laying everything out to get the car back in ship shape when it comes in. “The idea is to have everything ready so we waste as little time as possible,” he adds.
In the meantime, Lidia Guerrero prepares the massage table she will use to help Isidre Esteve recover, but only after making sure he has had enough to eat and drink. Before her expert hands work their magic, the racer holds a quick briefing session with his co-pilot and his mechanic to discuss the BV6's performance and any possible issues that have come up during the race. David takes care of restoring everything to full working order for the next day, with the help of French technicians from Sodicars Racing.
Finally, Isidre Esteve can relax, rehydrate, have a shower in his caravan (a new acquisition for this Dakar), and lie down on the massage table for his replenishing treatment: “I give him massages, we do mobility and stretching exercises and I check his skin carefully. Since he has no sensitivity in his legs, we have to be careful to make sure there are no wounds that could cause problems,” explains Lidia.
As night falls, Txema Villalobos buries his head in the road book. Before dinner is one of the few moments of peace and quiet they get, provided the whole day has gone well, of course. “I feel so lucky to have such a great team of wonderful professionals and lovely people. We are like a big family,” says Isidre Esteve, the Repsol and Onyx Seguros racer. It's time to go to bed and recharge his batteries before everything starts all over again in a few hours. After all, Dakar waits for no-one!