Team Saluki History - 2002 Back | History Index | Forward

1000 Dunes Rally - 27-29th March

Words by Dave Pryce....

The Saluki was finally ready although neither driver was entirely sure that they were as prepared as they would have liked. As usual, there were too many last minute jobs, lots of rushing around and plenty of nerves. Mark and Dave had not raced in almost 17 months, the car was untested, there were many in-car jobs to get reacquainted with and there was no time left, the event was here!

Tuesday 26th March and the pair, accompanied by Ian Barker in his Nissan Patrol, nicknamed the 'Green Goddess', set off to practice the prologue which was to be run the following day. Dave was trying to remember how to recalibrate the trip whilst en route and without the benefit of a measured mile - not so easy. The front suspension was feeling pretty rigid, too rigid in fact, but the prologue location was found and the circuit practiced three or four times. Mostly fast and loose with a couple of tricky areas and a very fast final straight and then it was out of the car for a quick once over.

The problem of the rigid suspension was immediately solved; someone had put a bolt in back to front so that, protruding from the panhard rod end, it was repeatedly hitting against the custom made suspension bracket (now badly bent) hung off the front axle. They headed back to the workshop and left the car in the capable hands of Paul Ridgway and then continued route checking in Ian's car. Not an ideal way to do this but at least Dave found it was easier to write notes at slower speeds! By the evening the car was ready, some of the 15 stages had been checked and scrutineering went off without a hitch at the site alongside the serene waters of the Dubai Creek.

Wednesday came quickly enough and saw the team back in the desert to try and recce the final stages although there just wasn’t time to do the last two. Everyone else had been out practising for a week already and Dave was uneasy about the lack time that had been available to familiarise himself with the route, cautions and terrain, let alone just getting back into the swing of things in general. Mark was also concerned about getting the “feel” for the car again.

Too late to worry about that, the prologue was here and now and many of the team’s supporters and sponsors turned up to see how they faired including the Power Horse Promotion Team with plenty of product (in fact they were much in evidence throughout the next few days) as well as the boys from Al Thika Packaging, Mobil, Response Advertising and Serck Services. Also present were the Al-Tayer crew complete with spares and tools.

27 March 2002

The 9 kilometre prologue was fast and furious and over in seconds (well, so it seemed), no real problems encountered and Team Saluki moved up the rankings from 15th to 8th position. The Al-Tayer crew checked the car, made sure all parts were in good working order and everyone departed to make final preparations for the next day. Dave drove back to Abu Dhabi but was back in Dubai early on Thursday and as ready as he was ever going to be.

28/29 March 2002

Team Saluki were first into the Parc Ferme at Shindagah, soon joined by other competitors, support crew, officials and friends and then it was time (12:00 hours) to suit up, start-up and ride up the ramp - they were off!

Hot, sweaty and nervous, Dave made the first of several silly errors over the next few days, missed a turning that took them the wrong way out of Dubai but still managed to get to the next stage at Hadab Ghanem on time. This was a quick loop of 14.55 kms encompassing sand, gravel and off piste sections but with no real hazards, the finish was a little twisty but fast and suddenly Team Saluki were through and the mechanics, managed by Streaky, were all over the car. A few minutes break and onto the next stage where potential disaster awaited the team. 1.7 kms into the route there was a main sand track crossing the path with a pencilled in hazard 200 metres before that. Dave made a serious error in zeroing the trip here when he shouldn’t have, some confusion resulted and the car hit the berm at an angle of 90 degrees without sufficient warning being given to Mark to slow down (i.e. NONE!).

Expletives flew (hardly surprising) as did the car when it hit the berm at the edge of the track, sailed clear across and then ploughed into the bank on the opposite side, careening and bouncing wildly but still more or less in a straight line, commendably held in check by Mark. Another 300 metres and there was a deafening smash from underneath the car “What the hell was that?” they both asked each other, as if either of them knew. A quick check revealed the brakes and steering was still working and there was nothing to do but continue on. Two kilometres from the end of the 21 km Murgham stage there were a series of sand drops (about 8 in all) rather like huge steps in a way and any of which could have wrecked the team’s chances of continuing. Thankfully all were taken more or less correctly and then the 3rd stage was over.

Once more a quick check was made, lube levels confirmed, bolts tightened and then it was discovered that the front axle was badly bent and the entire bash plate had been ripped away; obviously that was the sound that had been heard earlier. No time to do anything except speed off to the start of the Special Stage 4 (SS4) at Al Ruwayyah and hope the axle would hold up. The first 7 of this 20 km leg was up a steep sand hill between two fences with probably no more than 2 metres on each side prompting feelings of claustrophobia mingled with suspicions that the fence was magnetised – surely it was trying to pull the car in closer?

By now the Saluki’s were settling in better and feeling more at ease and confident, Mark was definitely getting a feel for the car which itself was performing faultlessly and, while speed is essential on any event like this, uppermost in their minds was that it was more important to finish the event. The rest of the afternoon stages passed in a blur of speed, sweat and dust. Hadab Ghanem was run again as was Murgham but this time the navigation for the track crossing at least was spot on. (Hardly surprising, you should see the pace notes!!!) The last stage before the break, Darawiza, was the 7th in this rally and started off the same as SS 4 but then turned right halfway through and brought the team out onto the old disused Al Awir tarmac road, badly pot holed and scarred. Minutes later the team were through the flying finish. Team Saluki picked up a time penalty on this stage only because Dave had incorrectly written the start time down.

The service area was at the Rashid Scout Camp and offered plenty of space, tents and washroom facilities. Before the start of the next leg at about 20:00 hours the mechanics crawled all over the car, Gayle (Mark’s wife) turned up with food and Dave had filched the notes off a friendly competitor for the final two stages on Friday (thanks Jane). Pumped up on Power Horse, Mark and Dave mounted up yet again ready for the night stages, many of which were repeats of those run earlier in the day. Already several cars were out with mechanical failures or accidents (in fact, of the 4 or 5 cars that had rolled, Dave had seen only one of them! Just shows what concentration goes into the job!) and the field was somewhat depleted.

The first of the night stages was the very same one that had nearly scuppered the team’s chances earlier on but by now it was familiar territory. That completed it was on to SS 8 (turned the wrong way on the road stage but instantly realised and made up the time), a new section that was almost exclusively sand tracks. Despite having brilliant illumination from four Light Force spots the navigation on this stage was a bit tricky with tracks often hard to spot and every bump in the road looking as though it could hide a massive drop off the other side. The start was rough, paralleling the main road but going at right angles over some short, choppy dunes but almost 3 kms later it was off into flatter desert areas and an increase in speed.

Mark was feeling a lot more confident with the car by now and his right foot was getting heavier. Torn between the need to complete the stage fast and the need to just complete the stage, Dave urged some caution but that didn’t stop the car reaching speeds of 140 and 150 kph on occasion over some of the smoother tracks although there were sections that were so rough that extreme vigilance had to be exercised. At one stage, following a straight track with many ridges and a steep drop to the right, the pair passed the Range Rover belonging to “The Captain” who had dropped off the side of the track and was trying to regain traction.

Up and over a big ridge (cryptically notated “Scared?” by the rally organisers) and the track was suddenly nowhere in sight! Casting left and right for the scent and following it’s GPS nose, the hound hesitated for a while until once more picking up the trail to the right and roaring off into the darkness. Flying down some straight and almost flat tracks, the Saluki’s passed a broken down Nicholas Mandrides (cheering them on in true sportsmanship) and then headed for the finish of this 44 km stage with s set dazzling lights coming up rapidly behind. One kilometre from the finish “The Captain” caught them up but then misjudged a turn and once again slid off the side of the track a scant 300 metres from the finish. There was just enough room for Mark to squeeze through and then the team hammered home to a thrilling finish of this stage.

On to the next two stages and then back again to the same 44 km sandy section, finding the track straight away this time when they went over “Scared?” and safely on to the finish with no more drama that night. It was approaching 04:30 hours when the crew rolled into the encampment, but no rest for anyone yet, not until the car had been checked, more discussions held and more food eaten. Mark and Dave were still too high on adrenalin to sleep properly but both managed about an hour of fitful “napping” before the grey early morning light saw them preparing for the final two stages of the rally.

The Umm Nahad Special Stage 14 (15 kms long) start was delayed for unknown reasons. It transpired that one of the competitors either hadn’t run this leg in practice or chose to ignore his notes, for his car took off over a short dune about 1.5 metres high and came down on the nose where it instantly stopped, before gently falling back onto the rear wheels like something out of a Keystone Cops movie! Team Saluki, on the other hand, exercised caution on the start and suffered no mishaps, racing through the finish and on to the next and final stage in no time at all.

Stage 15 was a lengthy but fast 38 kms and again there were no mishaps, thanks in part to Jane’s useful notes and Mark’s skilful handling. Afterwards they both thought that it would have been useful if they had had the time to practice this section, they could have made up a good amount of time, as this was the terrain the team were most happy in.

The final markers and route notes were flashing by, a gently twisting two kilometre run to the closing turn and then a 4.5 km straight sprint through to the finish on a slightly elevated track, last nasty hazard 2 kms short of the finish and then it was all over, relief and pride mingling with a huge buzz of excitement. The Saluki’s were back!

The 1000 Dunes Rally is one of the toughest on the UAE circuit as emphasised by the final count at the end of the day. Of 22 cars to start only 9 were able to complete the 15 stage, 600 km event and Team Saluki numbered 7 among them. A credible finish considering the odds stacked against them. A car totally rebuilt (almost exclusively by amateurs) and not tested in earnest, dire lack of practice for this event and almost 17 months since the last race! This surely ranked as an achievement in it’s own rights and a testament to the rebuild quality; not one single spare had been used at all.

The 1000 Dunes 24 hour rally (surely there were more than 1000 of them?!) comprised of 15 special stages linked with road stages to a total of 599.1 kilometres. Team Saluki finished with a total time of 5 hours, 14 minutes and 37 seconds, just 26 minutes behind 3rd place.

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