People tell us that we should be concise and to the point when building websites in order to grasp the surfer's attention.
We have purposefully kept ALL the details in this section. The members have all faced tough times to keep the team going - we hope that the following will give budding rallyists an insight into the trials and tribulations (not to forget the highs) of trying to compete in what is an extremely exciting sport.
However, if you don't want to wade through David Pryce's novel, you can always skip to the exciting bits (but you will miss some photo's)!
Having successfully taken part in rallies in 1997 and the following year, Team Saluki went into deep sleep mode when Mark changed jobs and moved to Dubai early in 1998. The original car was the property of his previous employer and was effectively no longer available and, in any case, Mark had to concentrate all his efforts on making a success out of his new position. Meanwhile, Dave was having his own particular set of problems and was not able to commit time and effort, not even in an official capacity for the UAE Desert Challenge, let alone as a member of a rally team.
The pair continued to dream about re-activating Team Saluki and often had discussions about how this could be done; how the team would operate and the possibility of major sponsorship. Rallying is certainly no cheap sport to contemplate and the team was faced with a chicken and egg situation – it’s virtually impossible to raise sponsorship without first having a car but to buy a car without sponsorship was virtually impossible as well (or so they thought)!
In the January of 2000, Mark decided that he needed to participate in the Challenge once again and bought a KTM 640 Adventure as a 40th birthday present to himself. Practice sessions began soon after with two or three trips being organised and culminating in a particularly hot and grueling day trip in late May when the Desert Challenge 1999 day 4 leg was run by a group of 8 bikers and three support vehicles. The support crew comprised of John Mitchell-Ross (who succeeded in bending his axle and chassis on a straight track!), Phil Chicot with Dave navigating and Ged 'the Clutch' (with a working one this time! – a long story and well worth telling in the future!).
By early June and after much agonizing, Mark had decided that he really wanted to compete with a car, sold his bike almost instantly and commenced planning in earnest for the purchase of a suitable vehicle, thankfully strongly supported by his wife Gayle. When approached to be navigator again Dave did
not really have to think about it for more
than three seconds!
Now started the endless round of knocking on doors for sponsorship, a long and arduous task punctuated with occasional moments of excitement when a particular company representative would suggest that major support was a possibility only to be sadly disappointed by a "Sorry, maybe next year", after weeks of hopeful discussions and phone calls. At great time and no little expense, Mark prepared a new prospectus for distribution to likely candidates. This detailed the history of Team Saluki to date, profiled the team members, discussed the events to be entered and gave an insight into where the team wanted to progress to.
While the team were hunting for the elusive pot of gold, consideration also had to be given to which car was going to be purchased, whether it was going to be one of the two locally available used vehicles, a new one being built from scratch in a Dubai garage or a left hand drive Land Rover 110 long wheel base available in the UK. This latter vehicle had last been raced in the same event in which Mark and Dave made their debut, the 1997 Desert Challenge and had only been to a few shows around England since then. Bob Ives, the 1989 Brazil Camel Trophy winner (along with his brother, the only Britons to do so) , had decided to sell his well-prepared Ilion badged car and Mark was keenly interested in the chance to own and race this sturdy vehicle.
The ‘D’ registered Defender had originally been built at Dawson Auto Developments of Silverstone by Paul Ridgeway many years ago and was once again prepared by Paul for the 1997 Challenge. Fitted with a John Eales 4.5L V8 engine delivering a potent 270bhp and a Land Rover 5 speed box, the 110 also sported HT adjustable shock absorbers, Quaife differentials and a 300-litre fuel tank!
Mark went on leave to the United Kingdom in July/August 2000 and, having inspected the car, decided to bite the bullet and confirm the purchase from Bob. An overseas call to Dave sweating it out in the Abu Dhabi summer raised the heat still further and sponsorship efforts were renewed.
Having finalised the transaction details, shipment was arranged through GAC Shipping with the help of Dick Danielson in Abu Dhabi and the Land Rover arrived in Port Rashid in September 2000. It was quickly cleared and delivered to Mark’s house. Within 7 days the paperwork was finalised for registration and the car was now carrying Dubai plates. Shortly after this Dave saw the vehicle for the first time since Team Saluki had taken ownership and the team spirit was instantly reborn as Mark and Dave sat in the vehicle in the carport, the engine burbling throatily under them as plans and ideas were bandied about at length!
By this time, Mark was already starting to mutter about stripping the car down and rebuilding it; all Dave wanted to do was get inside it and race! They decided to have a practice run and day 4 of 99’s Desert Challenge was chosen. Team Saluki and four rally bikes set off early one Friday (6th October) morning from Dubai to the start of the route in Abu Dhabi. This was to be a steep re-learning curve for Dave who had not used a GPS, a Terratrip (computer for measuring distance) or even a map for nearly three years. Not only that, the Terratrip was a different version than that used previously, the GPS was the very latest model and the route notes were a year out of date.
Very mindful of what had happened in pre-race training in 1997 (the pair had taken off from the top of a sand dune and flown for about 20’ before landing on the front of the car and rolling!) Dave was prepared to be extra cautious this time around. Apart from anything else, there was no money in the budget to forsake on costly repairs. Dave familiarised himself with the new GPS and trip en-route and succeeded in re-calibrating the Terratrip to a reasonable degree of accuracy.
The day started off well enough although a little behind schedule but disaster soon struck when one of the bikers, Stephen Dessurne, without consideration for the other team members, decided to fall off his bike and fracture his collar bone. The participants all regrouped and one of the support crew for the day, Paul Richards, took Stephen off to Mafraq Hospital for treatment, leaving the bike under the watchful eyes of a local farmer. Stephen was not too concerned with his injuries but was vocal in his wishes that he hoped the surgeon would not cut off his brand new and very expensive shirt (bought just the day before). The team subsequently found out that the surgeon did just that!
With Stephen safely on his way to hospital, his remaining fuel siphoned from his tank, and reduced to three bikers and two support vehicles, Phil Chicot and Shiner (apparently Shiner had gearbox trouble the entire day as it appeared that he couldn’t get out of low ratio first gear – or was it the way he drove?), Team Saluki set off once again to try and complete the day. By now, the pair were beginning to get a good feel for the car and the way it handled and were delighted with the balance and power it displayed.
Car and driver might have been performing well but the navigation was still a tricky issue with several minor mistakes creeping in to delay progress. Towards the end of the day Dave made something of a larger error in judgment and took the car more than 2 kilometres off track and the pair found themselves driving over very rough ground with no visible tracks for a considerable time; the only compensation at this time was being out in the desert in the rain, for this was the first rainfall the Emirates had seen for years. Eventually the track was re-established and Team Saluki rolled into the finish behind everyone else. All in all, it had not been a bad day out and certainly provided some object lessons as well as ammunition for general ribbing about navigational skills!
Within two days of this trip Mark took the car into the garage and had the engine stripped out to replace the engine main shaft seals and to have a general check done. This completed, another excursion was planned for the 20th October 2000 to further familiarise the pair with the car, handling, tyres, navigation and the terrain. Three rally bikes and one support car (this time driven by Pat LaRocque) joined Mark (who had set off from Dubai at 04:30 hours!) and Dave at 6 a.m. and headed for Liwa to try out the Desert Challenge’s 1999 day 3 – the legendary Rub Al Khali route – crossing some of the largest sand dunes in the Arabian peninsula.
New tyres had been fitted and these standard Michelin XS’s were giving some cause for anxiety in case they proved to be too thin for the Liwa conditions. These concerns were soon proved to be unfounded. Dave had no other worries about the car, its handling characteristics or the driver’s capability, but was still concerned with the possibility of making navigational errors. Furthermore, he had decided not to use the track data that was available in the GPS memory since this would not be available under the actual race environment and it was important to practise under as near race conditions as possible. The day turned out to be largely uneventful if lengthy and tiring, although there were one or two minor errors in navigation, perhaps understandable in shifting sand terrain where tracks can be obliterated in a day, let alone a year!
By now the team was making some headway with sponsors, several smaller packages had been agreed and confirmed. These came in various forms and included camp supplies from African & Eastern, labour and technical assistance from City Tyres, more shipping from GAC, oils and lubricants from BP Visco 5000 and a very welcome cash injection from Jotun Paints.
At this stage Team Saluki was still looking for help with the support crew; unfortunately Shiner had by now dropped out due to personal reasons and Pat was the sole support member - it looked like he was going to be very busy!
The car was taken back into the garage for some other minor work which included the fitting of two new radiator cooler fans, welding up a cracked front axle housing, replacement of slave and master cylinders on the clutch and fitting of new seats and belts, as well as some work on the suspension on the co-drivers side; according to Mark this had something to do with the extra weight Dave was carrying!
Dave and Mark spent the weekend of 26/27th October carrying out small improvements aimed at minimising possible problems during racing and also at cutting downtime to a minimum should any problems occur. The Terratrip was changed since the model fitted did not have a remote unit - this is much easier to use under rough race conditions when the car is bucking and veering like a wild steer running from a brush fire and helps to simplify the co-drivers task. A new hi-lift jack was purchased and fitted, electrical wiring was checked and switches were tested and relabeled. All equipment was stripped out, opened, repacked and fitted in such a way that everything was easily accessible and easily released (without the need to move or loosen other apparatus or kit).
Two days before the weekend, Team Saluki finally had the most important breakthrough with sponsorship and were able to confirm "Snickers" as the main sponsor for the UAE Desert Challenge 2000. While this was not enough to cover the costs associated with entering a major event it certainly went a long way to easing the pain of a battered bank account and gave added impetus to the team's efforts.
Emirates Radio FM2 also now confirmed their support in the form of coverage of the team and the event, in-car transmissions, live studio conferences and on the spot telephone interviews. This aspect of the event is almost as important as taking part in the race, the coverage gained is not just for the benefit of the team but for the sponsors as well since that is the main objective for them. Mark and Dave took this viewpoint very seriously and approached it with the same professionalism that they displayed with the organised method of preparation of the car and the run-up to the event.
The list of sponsors was now such that Mark and Dave decided not to look for any more for this particular event. With the lead profile covered by Snickers backed up by Jotun Paints as co-sponsor, BP Visco 5000 also stepped in as a support sponsor with oils and lubricants. GAC had already confirmed their support position by providing shipment at reduced rates or less and Abu Dhabi’s entire FM2 crew were guaranteeing heavy coverage on air. African & Eastern Ltd stepped in and admirably took care of the hospitality arrangements at the Team Saluki paddock in the desert, while City Tyres took good care of arranging the fitting, changing and balancing of a large number of wheels and tyres.
Further cash assistance came from Measurement Technology Ltd and Dave was fortunate to be able to draw on professional help from his employer at Independent Sports Marketing, Monika Pils, who took care of preparing logos and layouts for the T-shirts and some of the stickers.
Having tidied up the car generally and making sure that all equipment was operational, Mark and Dave decided to take the car for a last run in the sand to see how the performance had been affected by the addition of the obligatory air intake restrictor. This was a requirement by the FIA in order to compete in the World Cup for Cross Country Rallies – the UAE Desert Challenge being the ninth and final round.
The pair set off for Big Red (one of the largest dunes in the Dubai Emirate) on the Dubai to Hatta road and deflated the thin tyres to 23 PSI before venturing onto the sand. The 110 effortlessly reached the apex of Big Red and gave the crew renewed confidence since they felt they were unlikely to come across anything as big and as straight up as that on the route of the 2000 Challenge.
Now a different challenge faced Team Saluki, that of making sure that all arrangements and the hundreds of small details were sorted out to make the event run smoothly for the team and associated support. Earlier in the day Pat LaRocque had sat down with Mark and Dave and rapidly gone through a list of "To Do" items - far from reducing the list, plenty of new ones were added and Dave agreed to circulate, maintain and update the "To Do" sheet, this being the only way to maintain organization. The list was endless and growing by the hour but attention to detail is what makes the difference at the end of the day and both Mark and Dave were well aware of this and the importance of "getting it right!"
By the end of 28th October 2000 the 110 was back in the garage for final adjustments, the team were awash with lists and there was now a strong possibility that Shiner would, after all, be able to join us for the full 4 days.
After a meeting with the advertising agency, Mark and Dave realised that they would have to drive the media process to a certain extent as well. It would have made life easier to know that there was someone who could be relied on to cover this important part of the process, but this was obviously not going to be so simple as they expected.
As the result of contact with Tommy Gunn at Emirates Radio FM2, Dave received a call from Tanya from the ‘Lifestyle Show’ to set up an interview, which was subsequently established for 16:45 hours on the 31st October 2000 in Dubai. Shortly after this, Dave received a call from Tommy requesting a meeting to discuss the radio coverage of Team Saluki. This took place in 'Heroes' in Abu Dhabi (incidentally, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates) on Sunday 29th October 2000 and resulted in the agreement of extensive coverage.
Mark was busy putting most of his effort into taking care of the finishing touches necessary to make sure the car was in tip-top condition. The Land Rover was now back at the garage having the seats fitted and the tracking and suspension checked.
Sunday, 29th October 2000 saw Dave back in Dubai with meetings scheduled all morning before meeting up with Mark and driving off to see Snickers to discuss final arrangements in order to leverage the Snickers brand. Discussions went well, much to everyone’s satisfaction.
The radio schedule was discussed and ideas for branding of the car and support vehicles were discussed, along with thoughts on how best to gain coverage for Snickers from this event. During the course of the conversation, the brand manager for Snickers mentioned that they had a fully branded open-top London double-decker bus that they used for certain events. Mark leapt on this point and immediately suggested that this bus could be used at the paddock in the desert.
This idea was then further expanded to include use at the prologue and at the official start on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. Snickers saw the marketing potential and readily agreed to this. It looked as though Team Saluki were well on their way to creating a major image once more and the pair left the meeting in a euphoric mood!
Then it was back to the garage to collect the race vehicle newly fitted with larger and more comfortable seats. Having tried them out for comfort, Dave decided that the only thing missing now was the TV set! Back at Mark’s house, Dave checked his own vehicle that had been giving some trouble, mainly overheating, probably the result of too many fast trips up to Dubai and back!
As the pair were writing up notes and thinking of yet MORE jobs that needed doing the phone rang and, to their relief, it was Shiner confirming that he was now available become a member of Team Saluki’s attempt at the Desert Challenge for the entire four days. This was good news indeed as, not only did it lend the team more presence but it took some of the load off Pat and, to a lesser extent, Mark and Dave and also gave more room for team spirit to develop; more than likely in the form of endless repartee!
Tuesday morning both team members were in their respective offices, on the 'phone, faxing, typing and e-mailing reminders, lists, minutes of meetings etc. Still contacting sponsors for last minute arrangements. Preparing race suits. Organising T-shirt layouts. The pace was inexorably stepping up and the pressure would build over the coming seven days until the event started and then the heat would really be on to perform in terms of speed, reliability, hospitality and efficiency.
By the afternoon of Tuesday, 31st October 2000, Dave was heading back up to Dubai yet again to meet with Mark and thence on to see Tanya and Schroeder for the planned recording of the EFM2 radio interview. Mark arrived late from the office and the new seat belts were fitted in a hurry; then it was off to meet with the Radio 2 team. A short drive found everyone in the desert at what was assumed to be a suitable spot for an interview but as soon as this commenced, some construction traffic appeared on the scene disturbing the interview with excess noise. (Why is it when you think you are in the middle of nowhere, someone just pops up? Why is it when you need assistance, no-one turns up for days?) The four moved off to another area and the questions began.
At one stage, Mark suggested that Tanya might want to try out the rally vehicle and she willingly agreed. Dave helped Tanya adjust the seat belts, put on the helmet, and connect the intercom system both to her and to her recording equipment. Mark set off with a suitably impressive roar that left Schroeder feeling that the Porsches he had been in earlier in the day were underpowered! After Mark had succeeded in raising Tanya’s heartbeat it was Schroeder’s turn and then more time for questions afterwards.
The team was reasonably happy and relaxed about the interview and, having wrapped it up, set off with a "follow me!" Well…… they didn’t! When there was still no sign of the radio team after 5 minutes, Dave and Mark went back only to find that Schroeder had got the car stuck and was just freeing it! (The interview was finally aired on the afternoon of Thursday 2nd November, 2000 over an hour-long period). The pair then drove back to Mark’s house for a few last minute discussions before Dave once again headed off back to Abu Dhabi.
For the next few days the pair continued to chip away at all the Team Saluki job requirements whilst juggling family life and work commitments. It was all coming together nicely but still very hectic and the tension was beginning to crackle.
Saturday morning arrived and it was time for the branding of the vehicle. With the Snickers brand taking pride of place, Mark arrived at the signage company with the rally car with baited breath – finally they were going to see the Defender in its full rally colours – only to be told the artwork hadn't been approved!
Mark decided to complete the UAE Desert Challenge documentation at the designated rally headquarters at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and then return to have the car ‘stickered up’. Paperwork was submitted to the rally organizers, large amounts of money handed over, and in return, badges, stickers and rally paraphernalia was received… that was it – they were in the rally!
Late that afternoon, and after a call from the sign company, the Defender was driven back to be branded. After two hours, the car was transformed – from being a white box, it looked like Team Saluki were in action.
Having completed the documentation and branding, Mark arrived at Dave’s house in Abu Dhabi on the evening of Saturday 4th November 2000, as the team members had a scheduled radio interview in the FM2 studios early on the Sunday morning. This was supposed to be with Euan Cameron but he had called in sick. When the duo eventually reached the studio (after Dave, navigating, had missed the turning – an ominous sign!) they found Chris Moran in the studio looking somewhat surprised to see them to say the least; he knew nothing about the planned session. However, always the professional, Chris took it all in his stride and chatted on air with Team Saluki for nearly 50 minutes.
So far, the coverage was excellent, just what was required to build the team image and help attract more sponsors. After the interview, Mark headed back to Dubai followed soon after by Dave whom had a series of work related meetings scheduled. By early evening Dave was at Mark’s house and the other members of Team Saluki started to arrive. These included Shiner, Pat LaRocque and Martin Nyberg (the son of a colleague of Mark’s and who had traveled from Sweden to assist Pat). They all gathered round the Defender to view the branding and were very pleased with the image - things were most certainly taking shape.
It was agreed that Pat and Shiner would drive out to the bivouac on Tuesday afternoon in order to secure the necessary paddock area and a thousand details were discussed and either actioned, pigeon holed, assigned or cancelled. The list of things that needed doing was gone through from end to end and some kind of order was emerging out of the organised chaos. On top of this, Dave and Mark still had to draw up their own schedule to make sure that timing was strictly adhered to, along with a final communications list, so that everyone could contact other members of the team, family, or sponsors as necessary.
Monday morning Mark was off early to take the vehicle through scrutineering which had been set for 09:00 hours and Dave had further business meetings to attend but both parties were back at the house by a little after midday just as a nasty shamal (sand storm) blew up. This rapidly turned into an outright thunderstorm complete with brief but torrential rain and a little hail; the team members were not at all happy about this! Firstly, they knew it would make the prologue wet and slippery but, far more importantly, they were worried about what effect the rain would have on the sands of the Rub Al Khali (The Empty Quarter); would the rain be just as heavy there and therefore make the going faster or would there be no rain at all? Mark and Dave both knew that some of their competitive advantage would be lost if the going was firm since many of the international champions did not have the chance to travel that type of terrain as extensively as the locally based teams and soft sand, not firm, suited the Salukis. It would have to be a wait see situation.
Traveling back to Abu Dhabi that evening, Dave mused that this day, 6th November, was his 44th birthday and he had spent the day making last minute preparations for a high speed, off-road rally instead of sitting in front of a cosy fire somewhere taking it easy. He’d take the rally any time!
Tuesday, 7th November, 2000
The event was about to start! Dave was back in Dubai with Mark for the 09:00 hrs compulsory briefing at Rally H.Q. at the Hyatt and thence on to the prologue which was due to start at 13:00 hrs. Prior to this the pair had the chance to walk the track making notes about hazards and corners whilst worrying where the Snickers bus was. This should have been on site by 10:00 hrs but did not finally materialise until 11:30 hrs, half an hour after the scheduled media interview with Al Khaleej and Al Bayan newspapers and Abu Dhabi TV. In any event, none of the reporters showed up and even the official photographer did not arrive until after car 225 (Team Saluki) had finished the prologue in 18th place!
The small but fast 3.4 km prologue event was over in minutes for Team Saluki and the entire crew then drove back to the Snickers bus to watch the rest of the event and to wait for Schroeder to arrive from FM2 which he finally did at about 14:40 hrs. Another interview took place with Mark and Dave as well as Mark’s wife, Gayle and this was aired over an hour long period that afternoon. The team members stayed on to the end of the prologue to watch the four trucks come through and were suitably impressed with their performance, in particular the two Kamaz trucks. They had never seen anyone drift a heavy truck through a 90-degree turn with the back end swinging out like a rally car!
Having left the Garhoud area, it was back to the Hyatt for last minute checks on start times and any more documentation requirements and then home. Dave drove back once more to Abu Dhabi followed soon after by Mark having heard from Shiner earlier in the day that the chosen area at the bivouac had been secured. By this time it was apparent that the recent rains had not reached Liwa; in fact, they had barely reached Abu Dhabi before swinging eastwards and Mark and Dave breathed a sigh of relief!
Wednesday, 8th November, 2000
'D' day was upon them at last! The Salukis rose early, showered, checked their bags and donned their racing overalls. There was just time for a few last minute photographs with Dave’s wife and children before they set off for work and school and Mark and Dave made tracks for the Abu Dhabi Corniche where the official start was to take place. This was actually only a spectator start; the real start point was another 70 odd kilometres away in the desert. A last minute petrol stop and then Team Saluki arrived on the scene, set up the bus and banners and were pleased with the photo opportunity they had once again provided. Snickers were definitely featuring loud and clear! Alas, once more no official photographers arrived to record the event and a wonderful publicity opportunity was lost.
Dave’s wife, Alice, had arrived by now and took a few pictures and then the pair had to say farewell to the bus crew and move into the Park Ferme after again issuing last minute instructions to make sure that the bus was at the bivouac in plenty of time. Alice had to go back to work and departed shortly before Gayle arrived from Dubai with Ellice and Jourdan, her daughters. The Corniche start area was beginning to fill up with cars, bikes and trucks plus innumerable vehicles belonging to spectators as well as the usual throng of press cars, official’s and marshal’s vehicles, turning the whole vicinity into a hive of activity. Several friends and colleagues passed by offering luck and good fortune (several offered useful tips on navigation!) and there was a final FM2 radio interview with Fadi before Team Saluki driving car number 225 took to the ramp and started the Desert Challenge 2000.
The Snickers FM2 Defender reached the real start position at Manasir Plateau in plenty of time while last minute nerves were starting to make themselves felt. Dave, as the navigator, was concerned about his navigational skills and the possibility of making a serious error which could cost time and Mark was a little concerned with handling the car at high speeds on tight, loose, sandy tracks. The pair agreed to take the start easy and build up to the day over the first few kilometers until they were comfortable that they had settled in. The target time for this leg was 3 hours 30 minutes over a length of 307 kms. which gave an average speed of 87.7 kms/hr, quite fast paced!
Soon enough Mark and Dave were rolling up to the start in 18th position, helmets on, strapped in and ready to go. "One minute", shouted the start marshal. 30 seconds!…….."Nice and steady to start with please Mark", said Dave. 20 seconds!……."And good luck!" 10 seconds! …….5!…4!…3!…2!…1! and with a howl they were off leaving behind nothing but a receding dust cloud, a fading roar from the high powered 4.5 litre engine and the last of their nervousness!
Throughout the next few hours the pair worked together as a team, coaxing each other, supporting each other, reining each other in where necessary. Through PC1, no problems. Car 222 was soon overtaken followed by another two. Change of pace! Heading towards PC2, 1.05 kilometres away, now 500 metres, changing down, PC in view, counting down, 400, 300, changing down again, find the time card, 200, 100, time card out the window and stop. Stamp the card! Zero the trip! Check the GPS, hit the enter key. Give directions to Mark! Stow the time card securely and off again all in seconds! Through PC2 and into an area of farms with crossroads coming in rapid succession, traveling at in excess of 140, crossroads at 470m! Zero trip! Then 220m! Zero! 210m! Zero! 420m! Zero! Keep going straight on, watch out for local traffic! 260m! Zero! 180m! Zero! Watch out for that crest in the road! 220m Zero! Again 220m! Zero! Last two to go, car on track heading directly towards us, around it somehow! 230m! Zero! Turning 90 right at next one, 270m! Zero! Hit 'enter' on the GPS! Turn 90 right! Relax a little; next waypoint is a whole 28 seconds away but all of the above taking less than 1 minute and 10 seconds.
Starting to overtake bikes and quads now, having seen a few broken down along the way. Another car ahead but proving difficult to catch, it is slow in the rough sand on which it is difficult to pass, yet much faster on the sabkha (dried out salt flats) tracks which are interspersed throughout the route. The Snickers car fighting its way relentlessly closer over the rough ground only to have the gap widened when the going becomes smoother. At some time in the proceedings the pair noticed a disturbingly loud knocking noise but both thought there was something loose in the rear compartment and chose to ignore it.
Perseverance paid off and Mark roared past the other vehicle on a tricky sand section; however, like an angry bee that has been swatted aside, this only served to whip them on to greater frenzy and they were soon in front again not seeming to care that their car was bouncing crazily all over the place and in danger of causing serious damage to the suspension. Dave suggested that Mark back off at this point and the Land Rover duly took a slightly (ever so slightly!) slower approach. Team Saluki followed the car for the next few kilometres, very close behind and then onto a long sabkha plain once more but this time right behind them. With the speed building up to around 155 kms/hr, Dave and Mark could see a helicopter on the ground to the left of the track ahead and a broken-down quad on the right. As the two vehicles roared past the helicopter they were only inches apart and the team did not even notice Andy Nettleton standing there, such was the level of their concentration.
Mark kept pace with the lead car for the next 13.7 kilometres but then they slowed right down to take a 160 deg. left hand turn through a fence over some soft sandy ground. The pair thought that the lead car either made an error in going so slow or perhaps tried to slow down the Saluki members in the soft sand in the hopes of getting them stuck. Whatever it was, it was a mistake! The lead car became stuck but, Oh no! right in the gateway; there was no room to pass! Mark made a quick decision, dropped it down a gear, hung a right and just kept the revs up. As the car came round in a circle ploughing through the clinging sand the pair in car 225 noticed that their competitors had managed to back up a little but they were still stuck. Never mind they thought, there looked to be sufficient gap for the Land Rover and they both said at the same time "Go for it!" Then they were through the gap and off to the next point 12.42 kms. distant, leaving the other team floundering around like a beached whale!
Problem! The trip reading was bang on at 12.4 kilometres but the GPS was indicating another 800 metres to the turn. Because of this confusion the team overshot the turning by a few metres and had to back up a little. Stop! Look! Check the book again, the trip, the GPS! Mark earnestly asking for directions! Dave had to make a decision and decided to rely on the trip this time. "Take this turning!" he said, it looked right. WRONG! After about 6 kilometres the track petered out…basically a dead end! OK! Bin the trip and the route book! Follow the GPS to the next waypoint, number 123 which was showing itself as about 75 deg. to the left 1.7 kms distant. This entailed some tricky driving over a high range of sand dunes but Mark and the car coped with it admirably and Team Saluki soon found themselves back on track and using the route book again and at 177.6 kms they tore into PC3, turned 90 degrees left and went straight past the support crew waiting at the service stop in case of emergencies.
By now Team Saluki had gone past 5 other cars and several bikes and been passed by none. Then, shortly after PC4 (a difficult PC in that the cars had to stop on a slight uphill slope on sand), the brakes failed! No matter! There was nothing to be done anyway so the pair continued onwards for the last 65 kms taking just a little more care when approaching hazards and tight turns! The last few sections were a little bit tricky with many blind bends but Mark kept his head and the team rolled into the finish after 307 kilometres without serious mishap and without brakes!
It so happened that the finish was just metres from the bivouac and Mark headed straight for the refueling point. As soon as this was completed the car was driven into the Saluki paddock to be checked over. Shiner and Pat had done a great job of setting up the camp for the team although there was still work to be done but the bus was there for all to see and the tent was available. Once the car was securely parked it was noticed that the right front wheel was covered in oil so the wheel was immediately removed so reveal a broken brake pipe, the cause of the leakage and therefore the reason behind the brake failure. This breakage was then attributed to the fact that the lower bolt on the brake caliper was missing so that the caliper had been flopping around for some time; it was this that had created the knocking noise!
Mark and Dave set off on a tour of the camp to see if they could find some brake parts but, although most people were helpful, there was nothing available. In the end, with darkness descending, the team decided that Shiner and Pat would have to drive into Mussafah (Abu Dhabi’s industrial zone) to look for the requisite parts. Before they set off, Dave and Mark went to check provisional standings and briefing/route book issue timings and were able to confirm that Team Saluki had not only finished the day 5 minutes inside the target time but had also moved up to an astonishing 8th place! This was more than the pair had hoped for although they realised that they had had a good day so far; they just didn’t realise how good the day had been.
More good news was to follow after the briefing when Team Saluki were awarded the "Spirit of the Rally Trophy", said to be given for showing tenacity and challenge.
Back at the Saluki paddock there was much coming and going with many friends and some competitors dropping in to offer congratulations so far and good luck for the following day as well as to take the opportunity to sit down and partake of some of the hospitality kindly arranged by African & Eastern.
It was getting late, the support crews were on their way back with the parts and there was still work to be done. Dave had just about finished going over the route notes when Pat and Shiner arrived back and Mark set to work on the brakes. As soon as all pipes had been replaced and the caliper bolted back on the brake reservoir was refilled and the brakes were bled. This entailed taking each wheel off in turn to enable Mark to access the bleed nipples and, shortly after the front left wheel had been replaced, the high lift jack became stuck. At this time, late as it was, with tiredness from the day setting in and the car not yet ready for the following day tempers became a little frayed. In all the excitement and bustle and heated words, a crucial point was overlooked. No one actually checked to see if all wheel nuts had been fully tightened!
Everything was put back together, tools were put away, the car was cleaned and last minute checks were made so that the car was ready for the next day. Everyone retired for the night and slept soundly.
Day two and the team were up before the sun, morning ablutions performed and early breakfasts taken. Mark and Dave were ready for the next day’s challenge although the pre-start nerves were nibbling again and once more Dave was showing some worry over the navigational aspect. This was quite a technically challenging day.
Pat and Martin set off for the service stop at PC4, Mark and Dave having decided they didn’t need a service crew at the first service area at PC1. Dave and Mark said farewell to Shiner who was off to Abu Dhabi for the all-important ice and headed for the start of Day 2 some 10.9 kilometres distant. On arrival at the start and after Dave had checked their official start time the pair were once again interviewed live on FM2, this time by Euan Cameron. The time on air was about 20 minutes and the interview appeared to go very well; the duo was obviously becoming veterans of the airwaves!
With the clock ticking ever onwards, Mark and Dave once again prepared themselves to face the day, a 409.2 km route that had a target time of 4 hours and 45 minutes over some tough sand sections. The car was checked in at 0804 and all too soon the start time of 0809 had been reached. With a 5,4,3,2,1 Team Saluki surged forward yet again.
The day started with very fast gatch tracks followed by wide sand sections so the pace was on already. The engine sang at about 4500 revs and Dave was comfortable with the way the car was set up and with Mark’s handling of the Land Rover. Team Saluki were hacking along these various sections, sometimes at speeds just in excess of 160 kms/hr and everything was feeling fine, the team settling in for the day, looking forward to the rest of the event.
SUDDENLY THERE WAS SOMETHING TERRIBLY WRONG!
Just after a gentle curve about 69 kilometres into the route and traveling at about 140 kms/hr there was a black flash as the left front wheel parted company with the team and rapidly sped past. Within moments, the left wheel hub had dropped into the sand, acting as a huge anchor that instantly pulled the car into a tight left hand turn. Seconds later the car hit the sand bank at the side of the track and took off, flying for some 40’ before coming down hard in quick succession on both front wings, one after the other. Then it was airborne again for another 40’, thumping down on the right rear quarter before a smaller leap brought the car to a complete standstill facing forwards and resting on the drivers side.
The pair recalled that they had been in this same situation once before but in practice sessions only and in another Land Rover. All this had taken only seconds but had seemed to be much longer and Dave supposed it was rather like being inside a washing machine! While this had been taking place Dave was wondering if they would be able to continue the rally afterwards! With the driver's door against the ground and the passenger door jammed securely there was no alternative but to take the undignified exit through the windscreen! As ever, Mark was very conscious of the risk of fire, there was nearly 300 litres of fuel just behind the seats! Mark hit the button to activate the fire system while Dave killed all electrics by twisting the red emergency cut-off switch. Mark then scrambled out first followed by Dave who had delayed releasing his seat belt until Mark was clear.
Once outside the car it was immediately apparent that the UAE Desert Challenge 2000 was over for Team Saluki. Bitter disappointment coursed through both friends. For something as needless as this to happen was almost beyond comprehension. If only!….they both thought. They had been doing so well and were so confident; as long as there were no serious mechanical problems, they both thought they could achieve a good finish. So much preparation had gone into this, so much effort, so much money and it was all for nothing! Thoughts about the sponsors came into play as well. How would they take it? What would their reaction be? Then, other thoughts crowded forward. How lucky the pair had been. How well prepared the car was from a safety point of view. How good the FIA regulations were to ensure that the vehicles were as safe as possible. Mark and Dave had just emerged from a high-speed roll out with nothing more than a bruised knee, wrecked chances and wounded pride. Certainly Dave was already thinking….."Can we do this again? Will there be money available to rebuild the car?" Dave was also thinking of Mark and the amount he had put into this, feeling deeply for him but at a loss as to how to help Mark. Blokes are not very good at comforting other blokes!
By now, other cars were starting to appear and, without fail, they all slowed down to make certain that the driver and co-driver were unharmed, despite the fact that Dave was holding up the green "OK" sign. The Saluki support crew had already been informed and both vehicles were enroute to the scene of Mark and Dave’s demise. The sweep team arrived and helped to right the car and Dave and Mark started to strip out all tools, spares, GPS etc. Then the support crew arrived and Dave went off with Shiner to search for the offending wheel that was subsequently found about 300 metres away. Without too much ado, all loose equipment was packed into the two cars and the sorely dejected members of Team Saluki headed for the bivouac.
There was nothing more to do except wait for the arrival of the guests for that evening. Dave went to check on procedures for withdrawing from the race. Of course, everyone knew already and there was no paperwork to be done. Many people; friends, officials and competitors came to the paddock to express their sympathies but it didn’t make it any easier to bear.
Several people still came out to see the team on that fateful Thursday night and Ian Cooper, a good friend of the team, drove out from Abu Dhabi even though he had not actually intended to make the journey under normal circumstances. The remainder of the day was spent chatting to people and going over things again and again. Gayle came out to be with Mark, Dave’s wife and children also turned up, Dave drawing much comfort from their presence.
The following day was spent packing everything up, seeing people off safely and overseeing the recovery of the Land Rover. This actually took all day but by 18:00 hours the vehicle was safely loaded on the transporter, all police accident reports had been filed and completed and the Saluki paddock was cleared away.
All family, friends and team members had dispersed to their respective homes and Team Saluki had been put to rest for the time being.
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