Isidre Esteve is already in Peru ready to take part in the 2019 Dakar Rally from 6th to 17th January. As soon as he landed in Lima, the first thing he did was to be reunited with his BV6 Sodicars prototype, which recently arrived after a long journey. The vehicle is almost made-to-measure due to his spinal injury and some other peculiarities that the Repsol Rally Team driver himself revealed to us.
This season's model has undergone major changes based on the experience gained in the previous edition, where Isidre Esteve debuted the BV6 with an excellent 21st place in the cars category. The new version is shorter, with a longer suspension stroke, more efficient braking, and BFGoodrich All-Terrain T / A KDR2 + tires, which are ideal for the characteristics of the new Dakar route in Peru.
"For our suspension we have gone from 255 to 280 millimetres, which is what the regulation permits. This has made us change the front and rear wishbones. We have also mounted a pump with one more piston and wider brake discs for greater braking efficiency. The attack part of the car (between the end of the front wheel and the front of the car) has been shortened by 25 cm to prevent it from hitting the dunes, like last year".
The front, central, and rear differentials have also undergone significant modifications with respect to the previous model: "We have changed the preloads and, above all, the acceleration and deceleration ramps, which is what causes the car to block before or after. Thanks to this, we can now turn much faster".
All these developments have been thoroughly tested throughout the season in various tests and in two demanding world championship rallies, the Baja Aragón and the Rallye du Maroc. Isidre Esteve has reached a very positive conclusion: "The changes allow us to go faster without needing to take too many risks. The car suffers much less in terms of braking and traction, which makes for smoother and safer driving ".
An essential element so that the driver from Lérida can compete without worrying about his health is the Smart Cushion, which allows him to be seated for many hours without the risk of pressure sores. "The Nubolo cushion, as it is known commercially, allows me to compete safely again. It has eight areas with air cells (from more to less critical). Each area is controlled by microsensors and pressure valves. They are like alveoli with air inside, and in each area we decide a maximum and a minimum pressure. The cushion varies the pressure to favour blood flow in my glutes, which are under constant pressure, avoiding injuries to the skin".
The BV6 prototype also has several technical features to ensure that the driver from Oliana, who suffered a spinal injury in an accident while competing on a motorcycle in 2007, can drive on an equal footing. The most striking features are on the steering wheel, adapted by Guidosimplex. "It has three rings: the steering wheel in the middle; the accelerator above it, which works by pressing it inwards; and the brake at the bottom, which works by pressing it upwards and turns on itself to be able to brake during a turn".
In Isidre's case, steering is even more complicated as he has to combine steering, braking, and acceleration with gear changes, all without being able to use his feet. "The gearbox is sequential and, of course, I need the clutch to start the engine, thanks to a lever that I activate with a finger and that I sometimes use to crest the dunes", he explains.
In the event of a puncture or if they get stuck on a dune, unlike the other drivers, Isidre Esteve cannot get out of the car to help his co-driver Txema Villalobos, who must solve the problem on his own as soon as possible. To speed up the manoeuvre, the vehicle has hydraulic jacks installed in the lower part of the vehicle that are operated by a remote control. "With this we lose less time and we can get out of a complicated situation quicker", acknowledges Esteve.
The dashboard includes a multitude of buttons to control navigation and activate the different engine maps according to the needs. The Repsol Rally Team driver confesses that "there are many buttons and sometimes it is difficult to understand them, but they end up being part of our day-to-day work. In the end, the car is our office during the Dakar".