The APCsport crew travelled to Clermont Ferrand in central France for the semi-finals, where 10 top crews selected from across Europe would be reduced to the five who will fight for the prize of a Nissan backed drive on the 2006 Lisboa-Dakar rally raid.
The competition was extremely stiff with the 10 crews including such illustrious names as Luca Betti, JWRC regular, Tobias Johansson, WRC regular and ex Ford WRC test driver, and top Formula BMW driver Stian Sorlie. 200 applications were made from across Europe for the 10 places in the semis, with driver Andrew Coley and co-driver Dan Pearce winning the vote to represent the UK.
The 10 crews were assessed by an expert panel of judges, including 1997 Dakar Winner Kenjiro Shinozuka, members of the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO, Dakar organisers) and Nissan Motorsport (NISMO) on a host of tough challenges, as well as the core values of the Dakar Rally; Team Spirit, Solidarity, Endurance and Spirit of Competition.
Tests for the Semi Final selection included, in order: A 20km off road mountain bike orienteering race, GPS and cartography written exam, 4x4 trial, 4x4 timed river crossing, 1km run to overnight bivouac, 8km run at 6am followed by a final test of speed driving with an emphasis on mechanical sympathy. To add to the pressure, Eurosport were in attendance 24 hours a day, with 6 camera crews and 4 onboard cameras.
Andrew commented: “The semi final was incredibly tough. We were only given a few days notice to prepare and very little information as to what we should expect. The mental strain was the worst; incredible pressure from judging panel, very little sleep and never being told what was coming next or how you were doing in comparison to other teams, so no time to reflect or relax. A very clever and Dakar-like process to see which teams would break first.”
Danny said: “Having the TV crews follow your every move only added to the pressure; there was absolutely no chance of having any misjudgment overlooked, they were everywhere! The fatigue had an amazing effect too, with constant double checking of the navigation aspects as the tiredness increased.”
Despite all the pressure and the level of competition, the UK team did a fantastic job and won one of the 5 places in the Dakar Challenge Final, held in Erfoud, Morocco, in true Dakar conditions.
Andrew remarked: “Over the moon to have reached the final, obviously. We have some work to do ahead of Morocco ; the competition is only going to get harder from now. Seeing the TV of the Semi Final has been an eye opener, as we had no idea how we had done on each activity. We surprised ourselves a few times, some in a good way and some bad! We will be raising our game, for sure!”
Satellite TV channel Eurosport are broadcasting the entire selection process, featuring seven thirty -minute programs, the first showings of which are on Eurosport on Monday and Tuesday nights at 10pm through December. Repeats are being screened on Eurosport and Eurosport 2, as well as on Eurosport's 'Dakar Night', on the 30th or 31st of December, when all 7 shows will be screened in order. Please confirm times via the TV schedule on Sky or the Eurosport website, www.eurosport.co.uk