January 17th, Dakar Rally 2018 teams raced a 280 km SS that was set between Belén and Chilecito, Argentina in the Fiambalá desert, the most difficult stage of the second half of the event. Hino Team Sugawara’s Car 2 crewed by Teruhito Sugawara and Mitsugu Takahashi finished the SS at 9th place overall and 1st place in the Under 10-litre Class for an accumulated overall ranking at 9th place.
While the Fiambalá desert is situated on 1500 m highlands in the Andes foothills west of Belén, the heat was intense due to its inland location and the desert’s soft white sand created considerable drag for the racing vehicles. The steep ups and downs were also quite stressful on vehicles and crews alike as they were not able to pick up speed. This area has been featured often in Dakar Rallies after its relocation to South America, and is one of the most difficult spots of this event.
This day, teams took a 179 km liaison from Belén to the fringes of the Fiambalá desert where they raced the first 223 km segment of the day’s SS. This was followed by a 15-minute interval section before teams took off from the same spot to race the second 57 km segment of the SS. Once across the finish line, racers took a 287 km liaison to the bivouac in Chilecito. Meanwhile, this day and the day after were designated as the second marathon stages for motorbike racers who headed out from the SS finish line to their marathon bivouac on a 57 km liaison.
Teruhito Sugawara said, ‘It was unfortunate that we lost about 25 minutes because of the flat, but otherwise we raced pretty well. We’ve been here at Fiambalá many times in the past, but this is really a tough area. We have three more days to go so we will give it our best.’
While the Hino 500 Series Car 2 was the 13th to start the SS and suffered a flat on its front-right tire in a dune area at the beginning of the SS, it had climbed to 8th position by the time it reached the checkpoint and completed the remainder of the first segment in great form. The terrain consisted of pistes and fesh-fesh of sandy hills with grassy outcrops, the majority of which were off-road dune crossings. With pistes weaving between the dunes, racers had to overcome difficult features such as where they had to make tight turns while climbing steep inclines. In these spots, they had to maintain their speed and momentum to keep their vehicles from getting stuck in the sand. It was critical for both the driver and navigator to stay focused, so with temperatures reaching a scorching 42ºC, this proved to be a truly a punishing stage.
Mitsugu Takahashi said, ‘We focused our tire replacement rehearsals entirely on rear tires so I was alarmed when the front tire went out. Navigation-wise, things went smoothly since there were no difficult waypoints. The only thing was that, despite the relatively short distance, it was a long and tiring day because of our low average speed.’
The Car 2 crew delivered composed driving today again and finished the SS at 9th place without any problems. They then took a liaison to the Chilecito bivouac that was set up in the northern part of La Rioja province, arriving there past 10 pm. The truck had no problems other than the flat. Tomorrow, they will be racing a two-segment SS with a combined timed distance of 522 km en-route to San Juan. Since this is likely to be the final capstone stage in terms of challenging stages, team mechanics were extra thorough in their inspections and servicing.