Professional rally co-driver Dale Moscatt is hoping for a top 10 finish in class in the world's most difficult racing event, the famous Dakar Rally.
The long-time Kirrawee resident is navigating for former Australian Rally Champion, Molly Taylor, in the demanding two-week event. The pair, who competed together in the Australian rally series in 2007, and in 2020, are driving a Can-Am Maverick XRS with the backing of the Can-Am Factory South Racing Team.
The pair are now well into the second week of the event, which finishes in Saudi Arabia's second largest city, Jeddah, on January 14. Before the mid-event rest day in Riyadh last weekend, they were sitting in 18th outright in their category (SSV). At time of writing, they had improved their position despite some more dramas, and were in 13th place.
"They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," laughs Dale, saying the event has thrown everything and more at the competitors, including unexpected rain, rock 'gardens', lots of dust and sand, madcap truck racers and damage a-plenty.
"The navigation is really complex - and so is the driving. In one section you can be tackling lots of changes of direction at high speed, then you can be on massive straight stretches where you can be overtaken by a truck who cuts straight across in front and smashes your windscreen big-time.
"That happened to us and then we had to come to a complete stand-still because he was obviously returning to the road because there were hazards either side. So dangerous and so frightening, because you're hoping not to hit anything or have someone else behind hit you!!!"
The competition stages can be 300-400 km with long road sections to and from the nightly bivouacs. Fortunately, at the end of what are often very long days in the 'buggy', Dale and Molly can get some sleep while the team mechanics sort out their vehicle for the next day, but any mechanical issues out on the stage, and the repair work is done by the crew.
"We had hoped we'd had our quota of dramas last week when we were stuck out in the desert until very late at night but the first stage back this week (Monday), we landed off a smallish dune and the steering wheel went offset to one side and we knew something had bent.
"We had to stop and swap out a bent rear arm - we carry these and the tools - so we got it done without too much fuss and pushed on once again. Then just before we finished for the day, we got a puncture, so that slowed us down a bit more.
"But that's Dakar."
Moscatt, 47, a professional rally co-driver since 2004, has previously competed in the Dakar, as well as making regular appearances in the World Rally Championship and the European Rally Championship. He has two Australian championship titles on his CV and this year's Dakar is his 400th event.
Taylor, 33, the first woman to win the Australian Rally Championship, became more familiar to non-motorsport audiences in 2020 when she competed in the TV reality show, SAS Australia. Last year she joined Rosberg X Racing, competing in the inaugural year of the international all-electric cross-country racing category, Extreme E. She and the team won the title in late December.
The Dakar Rally was previously known as the Paris-Dakar and run from France to Senegal each January from 1979 to 2007. When terrorists forced the cancellation of the 2008 event, it was run in South America for 10 years. It moved to Saudi Arabia in 2020.
For anyone wanting to follow the Australians' progress, they are in vehicle 408 and results are on the official website, www.dakar.com/en/