Final blog from the rally soon!! This one has taken awhile!!!
It been a week since the crash now and five days from the last post – it seems like a month ago in some ways, not for my body though!!! R2R have had everything else thrown at them since then too, you really couldn’t write this script. Even we have been joking about a film !!!
After being told I was not broken and being collected from the hospital, the medical staff toke me away. I was in a doctors robe that one of the staff had given me as it was better that the backless gown!!! I thought Quin had asked then to get me as I knew the team were busy with Joy, the guys had got in with about 20 mins to spare before going out again. When we arrived at the airport though I was a bit confused. Turns out Q hadn’t and they just want to make sure I was looked after, very good of them. I ran Q and he was now at the hospital, we decided me flying over the Andes to next biv was probably a better idea anyway, which I was certainly cool with! I looked a bit like a special patient walking around in my gown and race boots with the medical crew, or the Racing Doctor as they were calling me!! We caught a Chile Air Force plane which was cool and it toke and hour to get there which was even better. The rest of the team would spend a good 10 hours minimum driving up and over the mountains.
When we got there, there were coaches waiting for all the ASO teams and it was only 10 mins away to Biv. It felt very strange being away from everybody else all of a sudden and I was still in a lot of pain and had no sleep, with a morphine come down – I felt like a tramp walking around with my bag of cut up race suit, a passport and a dead phone!!! The team toke me to the medical center and showed me a bed, were I laid down slowly and went to sleep. When I woke there was a tray of food next to me and everything had got busy!! It was about 4 in the afternoon now. I asked around for an iPhone 5 charger with no luck, asked one of the team to phone various people, with no luck so went back and hung around my bed!!! I was seriously hurting again. Luckily I was also next to the sports therapists area, so I asked them to look at my back. The guy sat me on the table to start with and pressed around. He hit one spot and I actually screamed out in pain!!! After further investigation and some very funky positions he stopped. Diagnosis was ripped back musels (now also bruised cockix and internal bruising!) but the inflammation was too much for him to do anything so they gave me some pills and said come back in a few days. After that I ventured out into the biv to see if I could find any of the team – still dressed as the racing doctor!! No ones was there yet. I did find my 2nd home though being the Toyota team that I’ve spent the last 3 years with, so I toke refuge with them. Smokes, coffee and an phone charger were found and a good bit of banter was had on how I looked. I spent the rest of the day with them and then during dinner I spotted Pav walking through the building that biv was set up in. It was like a romantic reunion, we were both so chuffed to see each other. We had a quick catch up and we the joined the other guys that were in Pav’s disco with him, plus half the film crew. It was great to see them all. Word was that Joy had finished stage but no one knew where the trucks were. Which also meant no one had any sleep kit or personal gear!! We went back the area layout for us in camp and found tony waiting in the IRD and then I went back to the Toyota camp and they kindly lent us all there spare tents and ground mats so we could have somewhere to sleep. The camera crew then asked if they could get a catch up with me on the whole ordeal, so still in hospital gear we did that, and wonderfully enough just at the end Matt and Barney turned up from another successful but frustrating day. It was awesome to see them again. They were knackered and hungry, it was now 2am.
I woke up in the morning and could hardly move, after tony lent me some clothes and I managed to crawl out, I could see the Duff had arrived but the MAN was still not there? No one knew where it was? Everyone was starting to look proper exhausted now, everything had been relentless from the start. After good catch ups and a bit of breakfast word came through that the MAN had lost drive on top of the Andes – 3500 meters up!!!! So, Matt and Barney were seen off with Pav and a few in chase and then Q, Baz, Shaun and myself all jumped into the other Discovery and started the journey back into the mountains – not what any of us really needed !! It wasn’t a bad drive in the end though, we had a good laugh, a bit of sleep for some of us, Baz drove, and I managed to do the last blog. It toke about 4 hours to get back to them, we found them on a Plato high up with the box off the back. For some reason they had decided to stop after the border and sleep the night, and the others had missed them and carried on to Biv, after then they had set off again but then cooked the gearbox, I think through driving with the exhaust brake on!! We topped the fluid back up and tried driving it but to no avail, so a full drain, clean of filter and renewal of oil was done – all 36 litres!! If that didn’t work, we were going to be seriously screwed. Thankfully everything seems to come back to life again. We stopped a few times to check the levels were right as its quite a drawn out procedure, all looked good and we set off again to go to the next days biv, so past the nights before and further!!! And Rest day at last!!! We final arrived around 2.30 the next morning.
I awoke at 7 laid down in the back of the Discovery by Tony asking me if I could drive. I had folded part of the rear seats down and made a bed as my back had got really bad after climbing all over the truck the day before. He wanted me to follow him to collect some of the guys from a hotel. Rooms had been booked for all drivers and Nav’s but as there was only Matt and Barney still running, they went to whoever needed them most, or who was there!!! Team Joy had done brilliantly again. They had finally made it rest day and now then crew had the chance to go to town on her and try and find the running problems. The day was spent with everyone busying away, either fixing joy, checking the other vehicles over, cleaning and arranging the trucks, or do personal admin and accountancy. We had lots of quest’s too, both Nassa and Nani came over for photo shoots, along with lots of well wishers and people just kine to see how we were. In the afternoon was a drivers get together, and briefing. To be honest I found the day very hard. I was delighted for the team that we had got to rest day, and everyone could have a bit of a catch up and that Matt and Barney had made the mile stone, but seeing only three cars in our camp and walking round seeing everyone prepping for the 2nd half of the rally really hurt. I’ve learnt a lot more about Ratcat’s condition now, and its not good. Even the gearbox bell housing has cracked in half, I’ve never seen that before!! Everyone’s happy were ok and it could of been a lot worse, but that still doesn’t change the fact that the dream was over. Me and Barney did watch some coverage for the first time, and it showed people going out for a lot more simpler things – it Motorsport at the end of the day!!! After the social we watch a very cool show, with a levitating stage of plastic, water and soaked girls!!! And then got a lift to the hotel and a bed – so needed by now.
The next morning saw a usual early start, 6am, which to be fair isn’t that early. If your a lead truck driver with one of the top teams it would have probably been 2 or 3 in the morning on the road! We got picked up by the Discoveries and headed back to the Biv. It had been discussed and put into action that I would now travel in the MAN T5 as I have done the majority of my Dakar’s in it and over 60,000 klms in total now. I shared a cab with Martin and Gareth. Martin set off, but it was obvious there was something wrong, so before we had even left the biv, I found myself in the drivers seat. I tried different things to see why the truck was so sluggish and then found the exhaust brake to be on again, and then all was fine – i carried on driving though as be did need to crack on as we were running behind schedule already. The day ahead shouldn’t of been too taxing, it was a straight drive for around 600 klms, and all was going well until half way through. We had just stopped and fueled and were back on the road again, when, on the outside of a small town, the Duff just pulled off in front of us and stopped at the side of the road – hazards on! Shaun got out and headed towards us as the truck then rolled down the gradient, across the road and into a truck stop next to a restaurant “It doesn’t sound good, i think the engine has just let go”, Shaun gestured, and we all just looked at each other in disbelief!!!! The engine had just stopped with a clunk, and then would not turn over anymore. Chris liffted the cab, and we could see that there was an oil leak from a rocker cover but that was the only sign of any problems. After discussions, we all agreed that the most likely thing would be the timing gear braking, and after lifting the loose rocker cover it was evident as the rockers had broken, which showed that a valve had meet with a piston and damage was going to have been done!!! The Duff was dead……
It wasn’t long after that the rest of the team started turning up. Pav and his disco crew, Dave and Tom in the OP wildcat, and the T4 truck and crew along with the other Discovery. I had pulled out as much recover gear as we had in the MAN T5 and it was agreed that the best thing was to just get the T4 to tow it to the next Biv and we would decided things from there. Martin and crew were sent on again with the MAN and i stayed on with the rest of the team to help them set up the best solid bar tow rig for safety Just as we were coming to a finish, Pav got a text through and simple said “you have got to be joking”!!!! He handed it over to me and it read – T5 MAN clutch gone, pulled away from traffic light in town and now cant change gear? This was getting silly now, both vehicles had just been fully checked over the day before!!! I gave instructions for them not to touch anything else and jumped into the Discovery to head off to find them. They had only managed 28 klms up the road!!! As told, we found them at the side of the road, in the next town. I again did all the usual checks but everything was as it should be!? I then did further checks under the truck and in the front inspection panel but still everything seemed as it should be. I finally ended up looking at the clutch slave cylinder and air actuator. It didn’t seem to be returning correctly. I tried bleeding a bit of clutch fluid out and that released the pedal from being solid but didn’t fix the gear change. Then Chris Astels and Chris Ratter both turned up in the T4 race truck towing the Duff and they cast there more knowledgeable eyes over it to, which I was pretty glad about, as all the climbing over, under and around trucks again, was not doing me any good!!! But, they both completely agreed ed with everything i had found, so a plan was made to send the rest of the convoy on so Joy had at least someone to turn up to that evening and the guys would stay on with me and that they would strip down the offending component and see if we could make it all happy again! We spent 4 hours at the side the road – what we could take apart was and then re-built with tender-loving care and all re-fitted. We fired everything up, waited for the air to build in the truck and then gave it a go – still no gear change!!!! I think we all sort of knew it was going to be the case! So, it was agreed ed that the clutch release bearing was gone – there was nothing else we could do. So everything was packed up, and it was now time to learn how to drive an 8 gear truck without using a clutch. Luckily as it also as a torque converter in the system it was going to make it a little easier. Both the Chris’s jumped in with me and we set off. It wasn’t too bad as long as we didn’t slow down to much!!! I drove a few hundred klms and then Chris Ratter finished off the final 100 or so. We finally got into Biv around 2am, the usual!!! It was agreed that bed was best, except Chris Ratter, who decided that he was going to stay up and start stripping the Duff engine – see if there was anything we could do!!!!!
Well as Dakar’s go, I can safely say this one is the most arduous one yet. I’m sure everyone knows the main story’s from what’s happened from day 3 up to now, and all I can say is the support back home as been touching and comforting. Even though it has felt like we have been the most unlucky team out there, some situations could have been a whole lot worse. My feelings go out to anyone else that has been involved and hasn’t been as lucky.
With regard to the Ratcat, Mark and myself we have had the emotional roller coast of a life time. Picking up from a few days ago we had entered that days stage as a trio, we had lost Tony the day before and the T4 was also broken down somewhere on stage with a broken transfer box. It wasn’t long before Matt had told us to go ahead without him as Joy was still playing up. Justin and I had got into a nice rhythm now, and could make good progress. All was fine until we got presented with a long, but large building dune, which after 400 odd vehicles had gone through was rather chewed up. We had stopped, watched a few people and decided are route, Justin made it up and I had a go, but toke a slightly different line and ended diving into a small but deep bowl in the side slope. The front end toke a slight bit of damage but nothing major, so I thought I’d just got stuck in an awkward place, once I started doing a bit of digging I found the rear prop in the sand – really not good. A vehicle with rear while drive would have a bit of a chance in sand with the right driving technic but front wheel drive Is basically impossible. First, Justin towed me out of the hole, then after several attempts to get anywhere, I borrow the OP cars rear prop to get over the main dune and the we tried being towed by Justin to tackle the rest, it did work for a little while until we got stopped by someone else in the way and then were stuck in a bowl again!! Finally it was called that Justin and Tom go on without us. A sad decision as they knew it probable meant we would be out of the rally. I spent a long time getting out of the bowl by reversing up a slope using sand ladder and very low tyre pressures. It was now around 4 in the afternoon and we were only about 60 km in a stage of 240. The sweeper truck had also just appeared!!! They asked how we were and once told said “you come with us”. This as a massive relief as it meant we had a chance of getting out of the dude field and on to hard standing. We travelled with the and a medical team mainly being towed as it was easier, but even they were struggling and we ended up digging the truck out several times. Eventually we got out of the dune field and followed a driver bed in convoy back to the Pan America Hi way. There we meet up with Tony and Jonny and got a new prop fitted and stocked up for a long session ahead. It as now 10 at night but we were going to go back in complete the stage, get all the way point and try to make it to the next before the 11am deadline for staying in the rally. We cracked on and raced all though the morning. Mark did an amazing job nav’ing and after hearing that Justin and Tom had gone out due to a rock destroying their transmission and Joy making it in around midnight we finally finished the stage around 6.30 in the morning. This left us 4 and a half hours to do close to 400 km, it was going to be tight!!! Both Mark and I was already knackered, and it was a very hard drive on twisty coastal roads and then canyons in land. The team hadn’t a clue how we were doing, they thought we were probably out, so when we came across the convoy on the road everyone was ecstatic that we had done it, but we were seriously against the clock. It became evident after a while with the roads and traffic that we weren’t going to make it. We ended up arriving at 12 and learnt they had waited an extra half an hour already. We were told we were out, luckily two other cars turned up at exactly the same time and a South African layer it on so thick that some phone calls were made and then out of the blue we were given the thumbs up – we were back in. It took about 10 minutes for it to really sink in, I don’t mind admitting I then had a little cry, we had done 26 hours straight up to that point and I thought the dream had finished. We briefly stopped with service crew and camera guys who had waited for us In the hope that we would make it too, and then rushed to the next stage start to carry on again.
The 200 km drive was the hardest I’ve ever done, I had to stop several times and was poring water down the back of my neck and over my head to keep fresh and awake. I knew I would be all right once we started stage and the adrenaline would kick in, I just had to get there. When we got there the sweeper truck and medical crew were waiting for us, so they could start too, we were literally the last car on the rally!! The stage was great, more rocky and river beds than dunes, and when we came across Matt and Barney waiting for Joy to have a rest as usual they actually dance with Joy!!! They thought we were out too and thought they were the only remaining Wildcat left. We stopped had a quick catch up and ploughed on. The stage quickly turned in to a harder grounded and more flowing section, with crosses between a large quarry and also some WRC type stuff through villages. I was well into the zone. We blasted through it all and the finished with some very open fast flat land and the dunes made out of fesh fesh, which was horrible!!! The a massive decent down the dunes to the beach and along that to the finish. We had a really good day considering! The liaison was around a 100 km with the border crossing thrown in too, and then into the bivouac for a well deserved sleep. We had gone 37 hours non-stop!!! I got into a tent and instantly fell asleep.
I was woke in the morning by Gareth shaking me awake, and then telling me the news that no one wants to hear, that some of the crew had been involved in a serious RTA. We had also lost the T4 out of the race due to the same timing issues i had too. We only had around 50 mins to get out and on with the day ahead so I didn’t have time to dwell on it too much, I felt better for having 6 hours sleep but all so felt like shit with everything else that was going on.
Matt and Barney had got in around 3 in the morning, but were directly behind us on the road so we travelled in convoy to the next stage start. People were already asking questions from back home and it was hard to know what to say, I didn’t really know either!!! We had a good amount of time to do the liaison in and had about a hour to spare at stage start to catch up with Matt and Barney and also reflect on the past few days. We agreed to pair up again, but after a wrong turning in a valley, and then us being side swiped by a truck we ended up being split again. The stage then quickly turned into some very large dunes, but actually quite manageable. We lost a bit of time on those with route selection and popping a tyre of a rim, but then got in to some fast flowing flat lands and we really started making some good progress, everything felt great and we made some great time, but just before a liaison zone between stages an awful noise started coming from underneath. We stopped and found that the jack plate had taken a beating and the bearings had been shattered and then the big main bolt for the ram had gone so it was all hanging down under the car. I did a quick fix and carried on. Luckily the T4 had come to the stage intermediate to help with any service needs so they dived on the car and fixed everything properly while Mark and I did pieces to camera. We were given good news that the guys were going to be fine, told a few tales and the carried on to stage 2.
The next stage was down as open and flowing like the stuff we had just done, but rather than single track it was more open and not defined. We were still running well, we came across a few rock peaks and then on to a big open plain. The ground was baked hard and it wasn’t as easy to see where the rally had come though like before. We came across a few cross ruts but nothing horrendous, and Mark and I were in conversation after talking about the importance of taking it easy and making rest day to give the team a chance to catch up, when, we both saw it!
We were doing about 60/70 km an hour, and both had time to express our concerns!!! There was a large square edged wash out ditch. We weren’t going to miss it, all I could do was to scrub as much speed off as I can before the impact!! We still went in very hard with my corner going first, we punched the far bank and fired up into the air hard. I don’t really know what happen in the air afterwards, all I felt was my back jolt and a massive amount of pain go through me and we landed on marks side afterwards. All the right things kicked in first, we both checked the other was ok, power was switched off and Mark pressed the emergence buttons on the iri-track. I then released my belts and tried to get out but I was I serious pain. I eventually managed to get the door open and off its hinges, but couldn’t pull myself out. Thankfully a Dutch truck pulled up to see if we were ok, they helped me out of the car my catching me as I rolled off the vehicle and then helped me lay down as I felt like I was locked solid. He then asked where my navigator was, and I gestured that Mark was still in the car. The windscreen had come out with force of the impact and was about 20 foot away so he helped him out through that, In the process Marks leg fell off which freaked the guy out somewhat!!! After that I managed to struggle back up and asked for the crew to right the car as fuel was leaking out and I was concerned for the engine and the rest of the car, nor really realising the severity of the damage. After that I laid down again and I realised that something was seriously wrong with me. Mark was brilliant, he got the sat phone and camel packs, checked on me and made sure I was comfortable, then started relaying details to the team and I got on my phone and got hold of the T4 truck as I knew it was the closest thing to us. Mark then rang Marta, his wife and me Courtney to both tell them what had happened and not to worry about what they might hear on the jungle drums!!! It toke about 50 mins for the medial crew to get to us by land, it was just before dusk when we crashed so dark when we received help, we warned several other crews of the danger while we were waiting. I was in major pain while we’re waiting, the lower part of my back was throbbing with a sharp stabbing pain which came and went, I had never really experienced anything like it, and I was really starting to think I had done some serious damage, the medical team thought so to!! I had taken some pain killers that Mark had given me but they hadn’t done anything. Once the medical crew had assessed me they then set up intravenous drips and gave me 20mills of Morphine and 10 of Codeine, which is all they had. After that discussions were had with the medical base and it was decided to move me by car back to bivouac then hospital. Mark grabbed everything we needs from the Ratcat which was really not well, and another team we’re stopped to help me be man handled into the medical Toyota in an inflatable bag type stretcher thing. The Ratcat was left in the desert for the T4 to come and recover. It toke us 7 hours to get back to the bivouac, when it should have only taken about 3, not totally sure why, as I wasn’t really with it for most of the journey!!!
When we finally got back I was transferred into another ambulance and one of the top medical staff with ASO travelled with me too. She started to explain that they suspected I had a broken back of fractured vertebra, and what was going to happen for each scenario. It was now getting scary. Also being wheeled through Hospital watching the roof files and lights go by was very weird, I’d never experienced that before! They wheeled me into a ward and started cutting my race suit off, then strapped be up with all sorts of devices – I was gutted and freaking now, I could understand why, but didn’t like it. After that they took me to the CT scan and did all checks possible, then back to ward and told me to try to get some sleep. After about an hour they came back and with surprise, said “your fine” and realised me from my bed. It was a hell of a relief, even though I didn’t feel it. A couple more tests and a few hours later, they released me and the medical team came and collected me again. They were pretty shocked too….
Well we have all made day 3 – just. Day 1 was a 240 klm Liaison and then a 13 klm special. Ratcat, OP and Joy all went well without problems, I even tried to help out a stricken car on the start line for a few minutes!!! but IRD had the transmission problems and after the T4 came to aid they both end up in the stage till the midnight hour, eventually help from Team Boucou saw them back safe and sound. Day 2 saw us going into the big dunes for the first time. A 70 k Liaison and then 240 klms of special. The stage started off with a lot of dusty tracks and then into the dune fields. With the timing from the day before , it had been decided that Justin would wait up for me and Matt and we would run as a trio, while Tony would join forces with the T4. On stage we all joined up just before the dune fields and went about picking are way through. All was going fine at first but then Joy started running poorly on an open flat and when it came to the next set of dunes it wasn’t able to pull itself over. I tried various things and tricks I knew to try and clear it but In the end it just seemed to come back to life!!! We cracked on again along another flat land, and after a mistake my myself, we all ended up getting stuck at one point in a shallow bowl. After that another very large dune range was presented to us, and Joy decided that she didn’t like the look of them either!!! After a bit of a reroute around an extremely large one we all finally got through, but things still wern’t good and Matt called it for Justin and I to leave and he would limp through at his own pace – it was going to be better to get two cars back to the lads in day light than none at all!
While all this had been going on with us, we were surprised that Tony and the truck hadn’t caught us up. Justin and I had a clean and fast run home after leaving Matt and got in bang on dusk, we were presented with the news that tony had had fan belt problems, overheating problems and the truck had also had problems trying to get to them to help out due to the truck being to heavily ladened. They were all still in the first 60klms. After a lot of Talks between Pav, Quin, it was decided for Safty reasons that Tony, Cathy and the truck boys should b line it trough stage back to biv. No one seemed to know where Matt and Barney were though! Then they just appeared , they had slogged on and made it to the end. Every one descended on the car and eventually it was decided that fuel vapouring was the problem and various solutions were put into place. Eventually IRD and the T5 made it home, the car got a full check over and the truck got given a diet.
Today sees myself and Justin now being paired up and Tony and Matt will run together not far behind, with the T4 just behind all of us, so even though we’re running at the back of the rally everything is still resembling the grand plan nearly!! Today’s stage is very big but short dunes with fast track in between, we’ll take it safe and steady but see if we can now start clawing some time back.
It’s been a manic start to the rally and time hasn’t allowed a written blog or uploading of my vids, will hopefully get it done tomorrow. As of 12.45 Sunday night all cars are back in but some meetings are to be had in the morning on where Tony stands in the rally. Fingers crossed everyone.
Race2Recovery is the first disabled team ever to enter the Dakar Rally, the world’s toughest motorsport event. Comprised predominantly of British and American servicemen, wounded in action, the team has set out to prove that serious injuries are no barrier to extraordinary achievement, and to raise money for the Tedworth House Personnel Recovery Centre. Donations to the team’s fundraising campaign can be made at http://www.race2recovery.com
For the Race2Recovery team, today marked the end of the beginning. After almost two years of hard work, four Wildcat rally raid cars past scrutineering, climbed a ceremonial ramp, took the applause of the Peruvian crowd and officially began the world’s toughest rally.
The car’s have now entered the parc ferme compound and won’t be returned to the team until the rally begins on Saturday. The mechanical prep is over: now it’s time to dust off the jetlag, repack the bags and look ahead to rally that will span fifteen days and over 5000 miles.
Since arriving in Lima on the 31st, the team have been based at the official rally headquarters on the Pacific Coast. Looking more like a scene from Mad Max than a traditional motorsport paddock, it’s an extraordinary sight. In the heat and the dust, eccentric beach buggies vie for attention with giant trucks, motorbikes and crazy quads.
And in the middle of it all has been a team of injured servicemen trying to grasp the scale of just what they’re taking on. “We’ve just two days to go before the start, but it’s still not really hit me that it’s about to happen,” says Tom Neathway, a triple amputee who’s a co-driver. “It’s all a bit surreal. We’ve had so much attention: spectators want our autograph and just about every news agency in the world wants to talk to us. It’s nuts; it’s a hell of a lot bigger than I thought it would be.”
Back in the UK, a host of celebrities had taken to social networks to send messages of good luck to the team and to help raise the profile of the fundraising for Tedworth House Personnel Recovery Centre. Olympic and Paralympic superstar Oscar Pistorius, a known motoring enthusiast, sent a video message to the Race2Recovery team in which he commended them for putting the focus on ability rather than disability. Elsewhere online, a message of good luck was tweeted to the team from a variety of sporting stars including England rugby captain Chris Robshaw, rugby legends Martin Offiah and Lawrence Dallaglio, Dame Kelly Holmes, Olympic rower Pete Reed, British women’s tennis player Anne Keothavong and Paralympians David Weir, Hannah Cockroft, Jody Cundy and Nathan Stephens. Messages of support also appeared on the official social networking feeds of a number of other celebrities including Lorraine Kelly, Robbie Williams, Michelle Mone, Theo Paphitis, Ben Fogle and Carol Vorderman amongst others. Chelsea FC also sent a message of support to Race2Recovery co-driver Corporal Tom Neathway, a lifelong fan of the club.
Come Saturday and the start of the rally proper, it’s only going to get bigger.