Motul supports the Dutch T4F Rallyteam in Africa Eco Race. Here you find the personal race diary of Gerard van Lieshout and Guido Slaats.
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Arriving in Dakar, the main reason for Gerard van Lieshout to take part in the Africa Eco Race. Sunday afternoon the magic moment will take place. After a Friday that was filled with problems, a broken clutch and gearbox, the final stage of the Africa Eco Race ended without any issues for Gerard van Lieshout and his navigator Guido Slaats.
It was already late in the evening when the T4F-duo returned from the 10th stage, knowing that they had to leave early again for the 11th stage. In the meantime the Toyota Landcruiser team of mechanics had fitted the car with a new clutch and gearbox. “We were able to give them a good first run”, explained by a satisfied Van Lieshout at the bivouac in Saint Louis. “It was an amazing day for us containing very fast slopes. We truly enjoyed it.”
After the 220 kilometer stage, there was only one road ahead on the way to the border with Senegal where the team arrived in the evening. On Sunday morning the journey continues from Saint Louis to Dakar, where the last mini-stage awaits the T4F-duo on the beach near Lac Rose. Van Lieshout cannot wait to get there. “That’s what it was all about: arriving in Dakar. That is what we all worked so hard for. A fulfilled bucket list item for me.”
Nonetheless, Gerard can look back at the last two weeks in the Africa Eco Race as a satisfied man. The race was particularly not without any issues. “The best part was the temporary number 1 spot on the leaderboard for standard cars. Sadly we weren’t able to keep that position, but finishing second is a very nice reward as well. I am very glad with how everything eventually went down.”
Never before in his career had Gerard van Lieshout experienced a day as tough as the 8th stage in the 2018 edition of the Africa Eco Race. He needed more than ten hours to complete the 439 kilometer stage through Mauretania. The dunes that Van Lieshout and his navigator Guido Slaats needed to cross with their Toyoata Landcruiser were so soft and loose that they needed special ramps to get through them.
“Ramp by ramp we climbed to the top”, Van Lieshout explains at the bivouac close to Atar, where he arrive hours after sunset. “The sand was so loose and soft that i couldn’t even get to the top by foot, imagine what happened when we tried it with the heavy Toyota. Therefore we used the ramps, meter by meter. And every time we had to dig those ramps that got buried one meter deep under the sand. It was an agony.”
It was a 60 kilometers stretch of dunes with camel grass that have costed Van Lieshout and Slaats hours and hours. “ I never knew about dunes being so soft and difficult to get through. Today was incredibly hard on our equipment. The clutch and gearbox have become far too hot. I have always hated riding through dunes and however I have gained lots of experience during this rally, I am definitely not looking forward to anymore of them. I am glad that the finish line is within reach now. ”
Unfortunately for Van Lieshout there are even more dunes to come during the 9th stage, a 340 kilometer stage.
40 kilometer before the end of the 486 kilometer 7th stage of the Africa Eco Race things were going excellent for Gerard van Lieshout en Guido Slaats. Only once they were stuck in some camel grass, part of the deal when you are in Mauretania. But in the last part of the stage, which began and finished at the Chami bivouac, the T4F duo went completely off course.
Navigator Guido Slaats explains: “Not far before the dunes we lost track. We went too far right and ended up wandering around. I said to Gerard: ‘We have to go around and then make a 90°C turn to the left, then we will automatically see the tracks again’. That’s what we did, but we couldn’t find the tracks again. We knew we had to get into the dunes, But we wanted to do it on the right track. We were afraid that we wouldn’t come out the dunes anymore if we didn’t.”
“We drove back and forth a few times, at least 89 kilometer, but still we couldn’t find the right track. Eventually we drove around the dunes and ended up on the paved road. We followed this road and eventually we ended up at the finish line. Which of course is not the way it should be done. We missed at least two waypoints and lost a lot of time during the search.”
In the results of the seventh stage Van Lieshout and Slaats received a 30 minutes penalty for missing the waypoints. On the leaderboard the T4F team dropped down 3 spots to the 32nd position. They also lost the lead in the subdivision ‘standard cars’.
Today and tomorrow are part of a ‘marathon stage’, which means that the mechanics are not allowed to do any maintenance on the car between today and tomorrow. The Toyota is therefore parked in Parc Fermé now. “Today has cost us a lot of time but eventually we did finish and luckily without any damage, we are really glad about that." According to Gerard van Lieshout.
During the sixth stage of the Africa Eco Race Gerard van Lieshout and Guido Slaats experienced some setbacks. The T4F-duo was driving towards a nice result in the first stage of Mauretania when a broken tyre caused a delay.
The tyre itself was not even the problem, the issue arose when Van Lieshout and Slaats tried to elevate the Toyota with an air lifting cushion to change the broken tyre. “That just didn’t work”, explains Van Lieshout. “We struggled for about half an hour with that thing, which is a pity, but we still have 5 days to compensate it”
Despite the misfortune, Van Lieshout climbed 1 spot on the general rankings and kept his number one spot in the ‘standard car class’. He really enjoyed this stage. “Lots of loose sand, many quick parts, a couple of dunes. A good day.”
The Africa Eco Race arrived in Mauretania on Monday morning and will stay at the same bivouac in Chami until Wednesday morning. That’s very convenient, because when leaving Dakhla the maintenance truck broke down. “The required service part will be flown in by MAN Nijmegen (NL) on Tuesday, so we don’t have to miss out on our maintenance truck for the rest of the rally.”
The first week of the Africa Eco Race went surprisingly well for Gerard van Lieshout and Guido Slaats. The T4F-duo is really positive during the rest day in Dakhla. They and their Toyota Landcruiser are on top of the leaderbord in their ‘standard car class’, T2, and on 30th position overall.
“I wasn’t expecting this”, says Van Lieshout. “We chose not to drive on our limits. Yes of course, during the 5th stage the throttle pedal sometimes went completely down to the floor. We had a decent speed but we never demanded the maximum from the car. We drive very carefully.”
Probably that’s the secret. The Russian competitor, Alexey Titov, who previously held the number one spot on the T2-class leaderboard with his Ford, received a 5hrs penalty during the 5th stage which sent him down 20 places in the rankings. Van Lieshout and Slaats are among a small group of competitors that didn’t receive any time penalties so far. By driving carefully they were able to finish all the 5 stages with hardly any damage to the car.
“You don’t gain any advantage by driving faster. We didn’t have to change any tyre so far during the race, we saw a lot of ‘different stories’ during the stages until now. We are driving on different tyres during this rally, until now a well-proven choice. They survived really well on the ‘rocky tracks’ and are now perfectly worn down for the dunes and the sandy tracks we will endure within the next week.
The only part that broke down, two days in a row, was the shock absorber (both sides once). Therefore the car received some extra maintenance on the suspensions from the mechanics during the rest day in Dakhla. “Furthermore there are no issues. The car operates good and we ourselves are not performing bad either. The co-operation inside the car is really good. Guido is a well-experienced navigator and that brings peace inside the cockpit. We have fun along the way but keep each other ‘on edge’ as well.”
“A good co-operation will be crucial during the second week. On Monday the Africa Eco Race will cross borders with Mauretania, where the dunes and sandy tracks are waiting for us. I am looking forward to the sandy tracks, the dunes I am less excited about. Actually our car is a little bit too heavy for that. It will take us longer than the others, because we will have to drive more carefully. This can also be an advantage for us again. It would be great if we could maintain our number 1 position in our class, but the finish in Dakar is still our main goal.”
Guido Slaats thought it was a positive signal: The Toyota entered the bivouac at Fort Chacal earlier then the maintenance truck did. “This was only confirming the positive feeling about the fourth stage of the Africa Eco Race” said the navigator of Gerard van Lieshout. The 500 kilometer journey took the T4F duo 7 hours and 17 minutes.
Van Lieshout and Slaats are not concerned by the rankings. They aren’t in this race for the podium. Maybe in the T2 class (standard cars), in which they possess a decent second place at the moment. "We just have to drive with care and control and shouldn’t do any crazy things", Slaats states. "This is how we survived the dunes without any issues in the last part of the stage today, while we endured a major struggle with them during the second stage. I went out of the car a few times, just to see how soft and how steep the dunes were and where could pass them in the easiest way. That worked out incredibly well."
Before the arrival at the dunes however, Van Lieshout and Slaats had developed a disability. During the third stage it was the rear-right shock absorber that broke, today it was the rear-left one. Extra caution was certainly required.
"After about 280 kilometers into the stage we didn’t have any rear ‘shock absorbing’ anymore," says Slaats. "Without that the car starts to dance and jump over the rocks. Very difficult, because it was again a massive challenge today. Heaps of rocks and boulders, demolishing people and material. Passing the riverbeds, we saw such enormous boulders that some people already started talking about them as ‘dolmens’, which is really not exaggerated. "
Despite that, Van Lieshout and Slaats were very satisfied with the course of the stage. "The only downside is that we have caused another ‘all-nighter’ for our mechanics again. They are starting to feel the fatigue now. "
Gerard van Lieshout could not remember ever seeing so many stones as during the third stage of the Africa Eco Race. "Almost unbelievable, nothing but stones, rocks and even more stones for 400 kilometers, Van Lieshout said on arrival at the bivouac in Assa, where the T4F-Toyota arrived with the 35th time of the day.
The many stones made the third stage an incredibly difficult one. "The car and ourselves as well have suffered quite a lot", Van Lieshout observed. "It was a tough day, but we were able withstand the conditions pretty good. No ripped tires, only a broken rear shock absorber. But that is an easy fix, so the car will be fresh and ready again for the fourth stage tomorrow morning. "
Today it was a lot better than the second stage yesterday, where Van Lieshout and navigator Guido Slaats literally lost track and got stuck in the dunes a few times. No sand dunes during the third stage. "It was a pretty nice stage and compared to the problematic day we had yesterday we arrived well and early at the bivouac. Which provided extra time for the mechanics to prepare the car for tomorrow and for us to catch some extra sleep, to make sure we arrive fit and well-rested at the start tomorrow, we will need it because it will be a long day tomorrow with a 500 kilometer stage."
Very late, the Toyota of Gerard van Lieshout and Guido Slaats arrived in the bivouac at Foum Zguid. Most motorcyclists had been in bed for a long time when the T4F duo clocked in at the finish of the second stage of the Africa Eco Race. Something special must have happened there. "Well, actually not," said Slaats calmly.
“Totally nothing”, however, was not the complete truth. Already in the first dunes-part of the 443 kilometer stage, the Toyota drove stuck into the loose sand of Erg Chebbi. And in the second dune-part it happened again a few times. So when Van Lieshout and Slaats arrived at the third set of dunes around 5 pm, they were not really feeling for another set-back because of being stuck in loose sand. "You know it is getting dark soon and we were not at all excited about having to shovel loose sand in complete darkness”. Gerard wasn’t happy about driving into this third set of dunes and I fully agreed with him, especially because we heard that there was a side road left of the dunes. That seemed like a good solution to us.
In search of the side road along the dunes, however, the T4F duo got lost. Every way they chose to drive, there was no path. "We ended up in “no man's land” which was completely impassable. I think we were in Algeria at one point, which was not intentional of course. Therefore we decided to go and look for the main road, to get around this part of the stage and then to enter the official trail again for the last 50 kilometers. But finding the road still tough task. We drove back and forth a few times and got stuck in the loose sand a few times as well before we finally found the main road."
Once they arrived on the road they drove the wrong way again, via Zagora to Ouarazate while they had to go to Foum Zguid. The plan to return to the official trail again fell into pieces as well, it was already far too dark for a safe return to the trail. "Nothing wrong with the car though," said Slaats.
"The only downside is its weight, it is too heavy. As a result, we got stuck in the dunes so often. I am used to being able to easily get across these terrains with a motorcycle or a quad. With a buggy it’s also easy, but not with our car. It sinks in the sand on top of the dunes. Nice views though, there is nothing wrong with that, but you are shoveling like crazy and every time it happens again. So we learned, we are not driving on top of the dunes anymore but drive around them instead. Lesson learned. We now know what we can expect, what the car is able to do and especially what it’s not. Tomorrow we will continue with fresh energy and full of excitement for the rest of the race.”