Beaten only by WRC regular and FIA B seed Tobias Johansson, Coley and Pearce stayed on in Morocco after the final for the full Dakar training program with NISMO (Nissan Motorsport) and are official reserve crew for the Lisboa Dakar Rally Raid.
The two day final, held in Erfoud in Morocco, would continue with the intense physical and mental selection tests that had reduced the 10 semi finalists to the 5 crews who were selected to travel to Morocco. In the run up to the final all five crews attended the official Dakar press conference in Paris, where for the first time they saw the NISMO Nissan Patrol that would be the prize drive vehicle for the winner.
After 18 hours of travelling to reach the remote village of Erfoud, the Dakar Challenge finalists were allowed just 4 hours sleep before being woken at 5am for an 8km run in the sand using compasses and a Dakar style road book. Despite the organisers attempt to exhaust the crews before even starting the final, the UK team shone in this first activity, being the only crew to find a particularly difficult checkpoint in the vast expanse of desert.
Navigator Dan remarked: “We were the last crew to set off and by our reckoning the others simply didn't set the bearing correctly. We chose a point on the mountains on the horizon and found the first point no problem. We sensed it was an important test result from the organisers reaction; navigation is everything on the Dakar.”
Having set the target in the first test the UK team performed fantastically over the entire two day final. The tests included a 7km driving course with massively varying terrain and an emphasis on mechanical sympathy, a ‘digging out' race where the crews had to remove a vehicle buried in sand, a night run over the dunes and a sand driving trial course.
Andrew summed up: “I think we were too kind to the car on the 7km test but lying in a good position in the overall standings at that point we didn't want to hinder our chances by tearing the transmission off the bottom of the car! The digging out was fine and useful practice; we got stuck twice on the sand trial but kept our heads, extracted the car quickly and, I think, did a great job.”
After a four hour wait for the judges (including 1997 Dakar Winner Kenjiro Shinozuka) to make their decision the results were announced in reverse order and revealed that Andrew and Danny had just missed out on the drive. Despite the disappointment, NISMO had been impressed and the judges had found it hard to separate the top 2 crews; the UK team were asked to stay on for NISMO's Dakar training over the following days.
Andrew commented: “The Dakar training was fantastic. We spent two full days driving on different types of sand and did a further 100km on gravel. This type of rally-raid car was a totally new experience for me; a full 450litre fuel tank creates one hell of a pendulum effect when you get out of shape!”
Co-driver Dan Pearce spent a day learning the intricacies of the Dakar road book on an actual Dakar stage, as well as sitting with Andrew during training to aid ‘line sighting' on the huge dunes at Merzouga, on the edge of the Sahara Desert.
Having completed the Dakar Challenge in second place and impressed NISMO during the official training program, Andrew and Dan are now in further talks with NISMO about opportunities in 2006.
Summing up, Andrew said: “The only team who beat us are FIA B seeds and WRC regulars; there is no shame in that for us. The major result is talking to NISMO about next year; involvement with a manufacturer is just off the scale for what we wanted to achieve from this incredible experience. I'm sure we'll need to find some backing too, but hopefully this result will remind people of what we are capable of.”
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 a Dakar Night, on the 30 th of December when all 7 shows will be screened in order. Please confirm times via the TV schedule on the Eurosport website, www.eurosport.co.uk