For the third year in a row the Africa Eco Race has chosen Monaco as its starting point.
Excitement mounts and the clock is ticking. Not much more than two weeks to go for everyone, 200 competitors in all, to be under starters orders on Quaie Antione in Monte-Carlo for this 6500 km endurance marathon. From December 31 to January 14, these spirited drivers will race across Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal before a spectacular finish at the banks of the magnificently beautiful Lake Rose, in Dakar. Motorcycles, quads, cars and trucks compete in death-defying and enthralling stages against each other over 12 whole days.
This 10th year of the Africa (Dakar) Eco Race, which since its debut has effectively replaced the original Dakar Rally on the African continent (once named the Paris-Dakar Rally) comes with the excitement focused on Vladimir Vasilyev, tipped to repeat his win from 2017. Vasilyev won the car event in his 4 wheel drive Mini – which makes two years now that the four wheel drives have had the upper hand. Expect a big challenge from the buggies this year though. The battleground is set for 2018; which will it be Vasilyev and the four wheel drives, for yet a third year, or the Buggy champions Mathieu Serradori and Lionel Baud? And what about the expected attack of the 10 SSVs that are half way between quad and buggy – the terrain is going to be right up their alley in the second week. The answers await us as these veterans’ endurance and skill is pushed to the limit until one of them tastes the fruits of victory as Lake Rose appears in sight on the final day. And what goes through your mind when that magic moment arrives when the finish line is crossed – «the 2018 Dakar Rally has just been won by…».
So why is it not called the Dakar Rally? Because the original «Dakar Rally» organisation decamped to Latin America after a grave security threat in 2008, perhaps provisionally as they explore putting on Rallies on other continents. So these cars, trucks and bikes, when racing in Africa, now do so under the organisation flying the flag of «Africa Eco Race». What’s in a name – it is Dakar to where they are racing!
And the trucks in 2018? The big story there is the favourite Gerard de Rooy in his Iveco fighting it out with three-time winner Tomas Tomecek. There are about 15 entrants, some quite dangerous with lots of experience of the course.
Returning to the important «raison d’être of the Africa Eco Race. The Africa Eco Race is not just an eco rally by name. It is actions that count at the end of the day. The race organisation has equipped vehicles with solar panels to use the energy stored during the day to carry out their missions. And the Africa Eco Race also funded two projects for power generation using photovoltaic panels in Mauritania to power a school in Nouakchott and a library in Chinguetti.
Bikes – where would the Rally be without those great images of bikes churning up the sand. Norway’s Paul Anders Ullevalseter is still thirsting for his third win, after his three in a row bid in 2017 was upset by Gev Sella from South Africa. And the Sella family aim to stop him again this year, this time Gev’s brother Tsuk is determined to beat him to the finish line. There are a host of others in with a shot including Italy’s Paolo Ceci and Franco Picco, so this is not by any means a two horse race. With any great symphony there is a conductor – and what is the tenth year of the Africa Eco Race if it is not a great symphony conducted by Jean-Louis Schlesser.
Tune in to HelloMonaco for news of the race itself.
Remember the date December 31,
Remember the place, Monaco.
See you in Monte Carlo and ultimately in Lake Rose where the garlands for the winners await.
And let us all pay tribute to Fabrizio Meoni a two-time winner who died in a crash in the 2005 race. Imagine 11 bikers in all have died in the history of the race and forty-five competitors overall!