The 1000 km of Dakar. Part one.

The men are sitting behind me in the darkness, smoking silently.
Tired.
The air is smelling of heat, dust, burning diesel, cigarettes, and that mysterious african smell.
As the Land-cruiser is making his way from Dakar to Saly, swinging occasionally to the side, avoiding animals or people suddenly appearing by the roadside, nobody says anything, small eyed from the flight, feeling hot, dusty and happy.
In the hotel just the bar is still open,we have a beer, a whiskey, a cigarette and then as always I ask Marc to show me the line again. Tomorrow.
I really mean to put it off a bit, not to jump straight at it but as soon as it has slipped out of my mouth we‘re fully back into the discussion.
Minute one of arrival, hardly any time to settle down and we talk halfway through the night about the track, the cars, the race, again and again.
Schroumpftown.
Next morning the men have to rise early to go and work on the cars. I´m of no use there, so I go and sit under a nodding palm tree on the beach, with a book, feeling the warm summer winds on my body.
I‘m so relaxed and joyful.
One of Guys comes to pick me up after lunch. They‘ve been cleaning the workshop, (which has been locked up since may) sweeping out billions of insects, dead beetles, spiders, creepy crawlies.
Uff lucky they spared me this one.
With the evening breeze cooling the air gently, we take the obligatory track walk, but the rosy twilight is soon giving way to blue darkness and we drive back to the hotel.
The next day “La schtroumphette“ needs a new clutch, brake pads, etc. (I again can‘t help here, so it‘s back to my palm tree and beach, but I’m slowly feeling bored).
Entrance gate to circuit
Getting race ready for the spectators.
In the late afternoon we can take the first couple of awkward laps. No rhythm, no speed, I´m hesitantly poking around the circuit, pathetic.
1978 Porsche 911. 3.6l engine + cage= race car.
Jeff, owner and chieftain of “La Schtroumphette“ arrives late that evening and the next day we can feel pathetic together, as we crawl with the car around the circuit. Then the throttle cable breaks and a new one must be rethreaded through the engine bay. Not much driving time left to re-install confidence in either of us. (Team Schtroumphette has a strong tendency to behave and feel like Mr. Bean.)
This is where we buy provisions.Water and biscuits.
That night, with the arrival of third Pilota Enrique, heated discussions about strategy and tactics send us back to laughter and excitement. Competition among our team is fierce. Yet towards the other two De Siebenthal cars it´s worse: it‘s merciless. (Ah, they are much much faster cars and don‘t take us seriously AT ALL.)
Strategy meeting..
I beg Jeff not to make me take the start at the first race, (it‘s at midday, killer) as the heat is blaring and being the standard northern european I‘m not sure how my body will handle temperatures of at least fifty degrees in the car for the long, airless line up procedure. It is, by the way, far hotter than in february, much hotter than anticipated.
Apropos body, during this week, with it’s long hot days, late diners, strenuous driving I have to learn quickly to economise my energy and physical strength. I appreciate my situation here tremendously: whilst the men forget that I‘m a woman when we discuss cars, tracks, races, placing as much importance on my opinion as on anyone‘s, everybody is chivalrous when it comes to carrying out heavy work. (That is a THANK YOU, Guys!)
But it remains hard, the heat, not getting much to eat during the day, eating diners late and rising early, mean headaches for me. Some of them just from lack of blood sugar by the time it´s diner time. (This is NOT a complaint!)
Seven O´Clock in the morning.
Then comes saturday morning:
The track at eight in the morning.
Qualifying!
Ua.
The pressure is growing, especially as Marc is having a serious word with me, telling me to go for it in one striking lap. He claims I’m ready for it now and will have learn how to do it: to give all in one lap. My protests, cries and obvious previous demonstrations of my incapability don‘t reach him at all.
Team Schtroumphette at the drivers briefing.
My lap time in the end is good, but just that: good and not superb. (The other two are teasing me, grinning brightly.)
It puts us on position 8 for the start.
Heat.
Jeff, who seems to be in a laser mood, almost beating all of us in his one qualifying lap lines up for the start. And gets fried by the sun.
When the flag finally shows green he attacks, overtaking two cars within the first 200 meters!
And attacks lap for lap. His times are getting better and better. Until he‘s three seconds quicker than his qualifying time. Enrique and I look at each other, impressed. How can we ever go that fast? After 33 long boiling laps Enrique takes the wheel and… seems to sleep a bit in the car! Until we call him in to take petrol (yet another not so nice job I don´t have to do), and that finally wakes him up. Following another, much quicker car, he strikes too, lapping quicker and quicker till he beats Jeff´s time! Amazing! Much quicker than during our last race together in february.
Jeff and Enrique changing,
the leading team of Bertrand and Marc changing. They are leading by six laps.

So the pressure on me is building up, it´s drivers change again and I find myself just in front of a car who wants to take our place! I really plonk down two laps as the guy is breathing into my neck until he thankfully makes a mistake, falls behind: I relax and speed up. I roll and roll, quicker and quicker but Jeff‘s and Enrique‘s lap time seems out of reach till suddenly I find the rhythm, the confidence, I play with the car, my vision is clear, I hit the right spots and give them a lap a second quicker than everybody! What a feeling, my mission accomplished, the enemy behind, some cars out of the race, the Schtroumphette stomping on as if she was born yesterday, not more than 30 years ago! As the light is fading I can follow a very quick car, feeling on top of the world, when suddenly in a turn I feel her sucking just AIR instead of petrol. Shock.
Fuel running low!
I have NO idea how many more laps to go. Shall I come it? Fill up and loose our place? I decide to take it easy, not revving the engine to high, going slowly, hoping to carry her through till the end. After two tortuous laps I see the FLAG. We´ve made the first 500 km beautifully. We´re in THIRD Position!
The car hasn‘t had a single problem, the drivers have outperformed themselves and our hopes for the next day are high!
As the hot exiting long day is coming to and end, night setting in, team Schtroumphette is overjoyed.
We´re third, but there another race, another day, another 500 km. What will they bring? Will we be able to keep our place? Will some of the cars with problems re-enter the race and catch up? Will the car last? Will we give in to the heat and brake down in the car?

9 Comments

  1. Deddi says:

    Na endlich, ich dachte schon…

    Was soll unsereins mittelhessischer Autoprekarianer anderes sagen, als toll!

    Gruß, Deddi

    P.S. Bist Du sicher, auf Foto 20 den Hut richtig herum aufgehabt zu haben..? :-)

    .

  2. Arneyb says:

    Sounds like a not so perfect start of a perfect weekend. But you should have worn a bikini while cleaning the windshield. And use more foam next time.

  3. Deddi:hatte er denn eine Richtung?
    Arne: I wore a Binkini!Not sure about the foam!

  4. Christian says:

    Hallo Gabriele!

    Mittlerweile verfolge ich deinen Blog schon länger und wollte nochmal kurz was äußern:
    Man liest so viele Texte in Zeitungen, Büchern und im Netz, aber dieser Blog hier liest sich unglaublich gut…. von der Ausdruckweise…. und mein English ist nicht gerade der Hit…. man lernt viel…. Ja und Fotos… bedarf keiner Änderung ;-) super! Bin derzeit auch dabei einen neueren, hochwertigeren Blog zu schaffen, werde berichten…

    Grüße aus dem Münsterland

  5. Danke lieber Chrsitian. Freue mich von Deinem neuen Blog zu hören!

  6. Don Alphonso says:

    Test wegen Nachfrage – ich denke, es sollte aber klappen.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What’s missing? Part #2, some more neglectable 500 km.

    Or do we have to wait till Easter Monday?

    Regards Garfield

  8. Mike Gulett says:

    Gabriele,

    You seem to have a lot of fun!

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