Words | Photos: Drew Larrigan
The Dakar Rally, an off-road rally consisting of 2,000+ kilometers of timed sections with roots born in Africa and, today, due to violence in Africa, takes place over two weeks in South America. This is an event for only the hardest souls on the planet. KTM has dominated the motorcycle portion but for the vehicle segment every year every manufacturer has a chance to finish first.
When the opportunity arose to photograph the Ford Ranger with South Racing, I had the option to meet the team in South Africa at their workshop or Argentina where the truck will be doing testing.
Either location would have been a first for me. Dakar spec would be a first as well. The decision was simple, wherever the truck will be dynamic and running then that’s the locations I’ll go. As beautiful as South Africa may be, South America has always been on my bucket list. Mendoza is the Malbec capital of the world and to experience a Dakar truck running hot laps around the dunes beats any workshop. Win Win.
I landed in Buenos Aires armed with very little Spanish. Seattle to Buenos Aires is 12 hour trek and to beat jet lag while experiencing the major city I buffered an extra night prior to my shoot to enjoy the South American nightlife. Prior to this visit, my views of Argentina were basic. I imagined my only reason for visiting Argentina was the dream of hiking Patagonia. Instead, here I am with a crash course of Dakar Rally race prep.
Unlike most of my travel, I decided to skip the rental car and take a taxi from the airport to the downtown Sheraton. As I cleared customs, I quickly knew this wasn’t the best idea. Being a control freak, I found it hard to trust this late 80’s Chevrolet Corsa taxi and driver who had no idea what I was saying.
As I trusted the young taxi driver to load my luggage, I hunched down into the rear seat. We sped off towards downtown. I quickly realized this isn’t Europe, Asia, or North America, places I feel completely submersed. But here, as we pass motorcycles I can’t clear my mind of how busy this city was, how the buildings stack upon each other, and how along the freeway I notice the unkempt streets. Wild dogs, trash can fires, and people everywhere I look.
This was about an hour taxi ride. An eye opening one at that. The driver nervously drove his little Chevrolet. He was uncomfortable, hitting his dash with frustration as he swerves quickly on side road along the freeway. I try to communicate with my hands, signaling wtf are we doing? I type on my phone and convert wtf into Spanish. He says, “Broken! Broken!” Stopping the car immediately, he runs out of the car and pops the hood. In a bit of a daze I allow him a few moments to troubleshoot his car, maybe he has this under control.
With my eyes alert, I panned around noticing how disheveled the area seemed to be. Was this really how South America was going to welcome me? Considering my camera equipment was valued more than this car I was almost sure this may be a sequel to Taken.
This taxi driver certainly was not a mechanic and with the trunk open to my luggage I saw another taxi approaching. I throw a 50$ bill to the young man and waved the next taxi down. After a bit of a back and forth between drivers I finally jump into taxi #2 directly towards the downtown Sheraton. Finally a place to sleep and to try Chimichurri with a Argentina steak and a Choripán!
The following day brings travel back to the airport for a flight towards the Andes to the town of Mendoza. The true adventure. I arrived on the only plane at Mendoza Airport and was welcomed by a small gaucho man holding a sign with my name and a little note saying I don’t speak english. Immediately, Juan hands me a cellphone and a lady explains the next 48 hrs to me. A 5 hr drive riding shoulder to shoulder from Mendoza to San Rafael with a language barrier between us. Despite our efforts, conversation was through gestures, a laugh or a smile.
I arrive in the middle of the dunes. Where the 2013 Ford Ranger Dakar sits idle with the small crew from South Racing huddled in the shade and a few chickens dancing around the truck. Immediately, the team welcomed me, and as the Ranger spun off for its last test run of the day in the dunes, we worked out the logistics for the afternoon photo shoot.
The Ranger returned from test, and the team offered up the co-pilot seat and a ride over the dunes. Of course, I can’t say no. We move forward with gearing me up, and squeezing my 6’4 frame through the passenger side roll bar. As I harness in the driver, Lucio Alvarez, gives me basic instructions for hand signals with a brief walk through of what is ahead.
As soon as the engineer shut the passenger door, the Ranger throttled ahead towards miles of private sand dunes. Instantly this ride was going to be unlike anything I’ve experienced in the past. The Ranger screams. I mean screams. Lucio rips over bumps and responds to any change in elevation with full throttle. Never before riding co-pilot have I felt the adrenaline, impact, and speed of the Dakar truck. My heart bounced off my ribcage. I had to signal to Lucio to slooooooooow. Which he briefly did to explain maintaining the high speed over the large bumps reduces the impact than slowing down. I signaled back with a thumbs up, and he pushed us throw the section towards the cloud soft dunes.
A totally new terrain. It becomes apparent why the team practices here. The brutally fast, and rough section enters right into the dunes which is acre by acre of elevation changes and untouched sand. Lucio feels at home in this section. Drifting the truck all over. Grinding the top of the dunes, quick drop ins, and jumping portions. This terrain mirrors sections of the Dakar Rally, and an incredible test bed for South Racing.
After the dune section, we circle back and raced back to the team where they were preparing to change locations. I jumped out of truck fresh off what felt like 12 espresso shots. Giddy, ready to go! What an unreal experience. Time to debrief, and chat with the team to learn more about the Ford Ranger.
At the time Ford built two version of the Ford Ranger Dakar Spec. This purpose built Ranger with a full composite body host a 5.0-litre V8 engine paired with a six-speed sequential gearbox. Dakar is a test of endurance, durability, and reliability. So the top-speed is limited to 105 mph with the V8 engine producing 350 hp and 413lbs-tq. Just as important, the Ranger carries a 132 gallon fuel tank, spare tires, jacks, and anything required for roadside repair.
As my experience with South Racing came to an end, the team just had a few weeks left before the 2014 Dakar Rally. The 2014 Dakar Rally represented two marathon stages traveling through three countries, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. The 2014 race proved to be very difficult for the team. Having problems every day with the Ford and never picking up pace, the team finished 22nd.
Watching a day in the life of a Dakar race team was pure privilege. This is serious shit. Real men, from all over the world investing life, money, and time to take on what is arguably the most badass competitions on the planet.
Good luck to those that dare take on the rally in 2016. We encourage you all to follow the rally that begins January 3rd, 2016. Wish we were there. http://www.dakar.com/