We’ve hung on to tenth place overall so far, which is what we hoped to do. There’s a bit of a gap in front of us and behind us, so we need to try and manage everything now. The fact that we’re here at all, running in the top ten of the Dakar, is pretty amazing. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of: I still can’t actually believe that it’s happening to me.
Everyone in the team has been great. Nasser Al-Attiyah, who is currently second in the standings and has won the Dakar twice, is one of my team mates – that’s pretty cool – and he’s given me plenty of advice. He’s a bit of an encyclopaedia when it comes to desert driving.
It’s also been great to spend a bit of time with Mikko Hirvonen. He’s new to the Dakar like me, but he’s been at the sharp end of the World Rally Championship for many years: in fact, he came within one point of taking the world rally title away from Sébastien Loeb not so long ago.
Mikko’s been amazing: he’s fourth at the moment, and he may even get a podium – you never know. It would be awesome to have two Minis on the podium, but the Peugeots have been so quick this year, so hats off to them.
As for me, we’ve got one more long stage to go on Friday, then just a short 112-mile run to the finish ramp on Saturday. And I really, really want to make sure we’re on it…
Thursday 14 January 2016
We rallied through the Fiambala dunes stage on Wednesday, and I can honestly say that was probably the hardest rally stage I’ve completed in my life.
To give you an idea of just how tough it was, Nasser Al-Attiyah rolled within five kilometres and Carlos Sainz retired from the lead.
It wasn’t just the driving that was tricky; it was the navigation as well. Finding the waypoints was a massively tough job and that stage was simply everything that a Dakar stage should be: hugely demanding – physically, mentally and mechanically.
Although the stage was utter chaos, we managed to stay really focused and set eighth-fastest stage time, which meant that we were actually the second-fastest Mini through the stage, after Mikko Hirvonen. I’m so pleased with that, as I think that was our best performance on what was certainly the toughest stage of the rally. Beyond tricky, in fact.
It just all came together though, and as usual a massive thanks to my co-driver Andy, whose wisdom and experience really came into its own on that stage. You pick your way through the obstacles and you can’t be too hard on the car, as it still has three days to go.
Judging that balance – between speed and safety – is the biggest challenge the Dakar presents you with. But we’ve already seen that the Mini is pretty strong. We saw Nani Roma on his side on the stage, so we stopped to help him get back on his wheels, and we also got a little bit lost looking for a waypoint and slightly.
We’re 10th overall now, which means that these are probably going to be the longest three days of my life. Part of you thinks ‘wouldn’t it be great if the rally stopped now?’ but to be honest I’m enjoying it too much to want to stop.
At the same time, I’ve got to stay concentrated. You can’t even begin to get into the mentality of thinking that the rally is nearly over, as then you start to relax a bit. And that’s the last thing I need right now. The stages may be hundreds of miles long, but you can’t afford to relax for a second on any of them.