“The Repsol Rally Team is a family and I feel proud to be a part of it,”says Isidre Esteve's co-driver Txema Villalobos, who started down the adventurous road of Dakar car racing 10 years ago. This year marks the fourth time the driver from Gerona takes part in the world's toughest race and adds that “it is a pleasure to do so next to a person like Isidre, who is the very definition of vitality."
“I first met Isidre in 2008, when I prepared the vehicle he used to compete in his first Dakar car race, and I travelled to Argentina with him as the head of the mechanics team. We hit it off quickly and became good friends. Since then, we've had a very close relationship and we understand each other perfectly both inside and outside the car”, Villalobos explains.”
Txema is still moved by the memory of the phone call that changed his life. “Isidre called me to ask if I wanted to join him at the Dakar race as his co-driver, and I didn't give it a second thought, because he's a person who inspires optimism and being next to him is a dream come true,"the driver from Calonge admits. Even though he had taken part in other rallies as a co-driver, he had never competed in a race as demanding as Dakar.
Txema Villalobos acknowledges that, since his début at the Dakar in 2017, he has improved tremendously: “I am far more rigorous and professional in everything I do now. I've never had any mechanical problems because I am a professional mechanic and I know the car better than anyone, but co-driving was my weak point and Isidre has always been very patient with me. We've worked together a lot to improve on this, doing tests in Morocco and practice runs using the GPS, and I feel far more confident now. ”
In fact, the Repsol Rally Team driver does not hesitate to chalk up much of his positive results to the person sitting to the right of him. “I am very calm whenever a technical problem arises because Txema is a genuine guarantee and I know he'll find the way to solve the issue. He's also made incredible progress in terms of co-driving and he's doing a really good job this first week of Dakar. I can't imagine competing without him at my side,”, Isidre Esteve affirms.
In addition, in the event the car has a puncture, malfunctions, or gets stuck in a dune, it's entirely up to Villalobos to deal with the situation, as Isidre is unable to get out of the car to help, owing to his spine injury. “He tries not to get stuck in the sand and, when this happens, he apologises. He knows it takes us longer to get going again than other cars, but he keeps his calm. He acts with patience and offers me words of encouragement,”, the co-driver explains.
The two have faced difficult moments but have always come away victorious, their bomb-proof friendship unharmed. Txema tells us that “racing next to Isidre Esteve is a pleasure, because he always looks ahead with confidence and inspires optimism to those around him. He knows how to listen, can take advice, and we make many decisions as a team. We are very thrilled that this year's project is more ambitious and we're eager to go out there and get good results. Just to think of it is exciting.”
It certainly won't be easy, because Dakar 2019 is proving highly demanding and full of obstacles. “This race is developing as expected. We knew it would be shorter, but very intense and difficult. We've run into some problems, though none have been too serious and we've managed to reach the rest stage with little time lost,”, the man from Gerona says, proud of the 23rd provisional overall place they've secured.
This Saturday, during the rest at Arequipa, Repsol Rally Team mechanics David Pigem and Carlos Méndez have availed themselves of the time to check the parts of the BV6 prototype, while the driver and co-driver tried to regain their strength with a few massages from physical trainer Lidia Guerrero, set on being as ready as possible for a second week of racing that will prove as difficult, or more so, than the first. “I only hope I don't run into any mechanical problems, because the rest is in the hands of Isidre Esteve, and I can rest assured I am in very good hands,”, Txema Villalobos concludes.