Diego Vallejo and Edu Blanco, co-drivers of the Astara Team, analyze the 2022 Dakar Rally route
- Edu Blanco and Diego Vallejo reveal the main challenges of the 2022 Dakar Rally roadbook.
- The two co-drivers of the Astara Team will deal with the digital ‘roadbook’ for the first time. It is a system that will change their lives during the race.
- Both share a great friendship with their respective drivers, what is a key to achieve the best results.
Madrid, December 27th, 2021. The task of a co-driver in a race like the Dakar Rally is crucial to get the team safely to the finish line. Without this key team member, aspiring to a a good result is nearly impossible, and not only because of his abilities as a navigator and guide in the middle of the desert, but also for his companionship and help even in the most complicated situations, both on a personal and mechanical level.
Diego Vallejo and Edu Blanco are the two experienced codrivers of the Astara Team . They will work from the right seat of Óscar Fuertes’ car and Jesús Calleja’s car, respectively. Their mission will be reading the ‘roadbook’ and finding the right direction on some of the most complicated roads in the world. They are both in the final countdown to the start this adventure, but before they fly to Arabia Saudi, they have analyzed the route of the Dakar 2022 to discover the few details they have already found out.
The 43rd edition of the Dakar Rally will start on January 1st from Jeddah with the first part of Special Stage 1, with only 19 timed kilometers, before the ‘real´ start the following morning, with no less than 334 km. In total, the participants in the rally will have to travel more than 4,000 timed kilometers, which will take them through an extremely demanding terrain, with rocks, dunes, sand, fast tracks and endless obstacles that the Astara Team members will have to overcome to reach the finish line.
“This will be the third year in Saudi Arabia, and after a first year of ‘warming up’ and a somewhat ‘light’ year due to COVID in 2021, I think now is the moment of truth,” predicts Edu. “We are going to face a lot of sand and dunes, as the organisers have said, and to discover new territories. I am a bit surprised by the fact that there will be up to five stages in loops, and therefore we can expect many obstacles and difficulties in navigation, since this format brings them the possibility of offering us such a scenario”.
“I think it will be a tough Dakar, with stages of 300 kilometers on average but that can be very complicated and take us to complete them up to seven hours. At first, in the Ha’il area, I hope that we will have a lot of desert and navigation. Then we hope that the navigation will be complicated with the dunes and rocks, as we get closer to Riyad. We think that the sand is going to be a key factor this hear ”, assures the Argentine.
Vallejo, on the other hand, warns that there are stages expected to be especially long and demanding.
“Stage 4 and Stage 7 attract my attention, and not only because of the mileage, but because in one of them the organization tells us that the last car may arrive at the bivouac at seven in the morning the next day. That already tells us that we are going to suffer, because we are going to be late ”.
“We have the experience of 2020, when we raced here, but it does not help us much more than to get used to the idea of the weather, the country and some other things, because the route has changed a lot and each edition of the Dakar is a totally different story. ”, adds Vallejo, with more than 400 rallies and five Dakar editions under his belt.
An impossible challenge to prepare
Competing in the Dakar Rally means literally facing the unknown. It is a very different thing compared to what racing drivers do in a circuit. Racing drivers can train as many hours they want in front of a simulator. Even a rally team can analyze and train on the section where they are going to rally. But in the Dakar Rally the toughest off road competition in the world that is not possible.
The route of each day is an absolute secret until just ten minutes before the start of each special stage. That is the moment when the codrivers can discover the road book. Until then, they only know the departure and arrival locations, the timed kilometers they will face, how long the road sections will be, the departure and arrival times, and a few lines about the terrain where they will compete.
“We have very little data before traveling to Saudi Arabia, or actually before each stage. We analyze the data and details that the organization publishes to get an idea of where we are going to go or pass, but then nothing resembles what we find”, explains Vallejo. “In the end you must bear in mind that in the Dakar everything is difficult and you cannot trust yourself: I have had stages that we had described as easy and then they were the opposite, and vice versa. My experience tells me that it is better wait and see what we find ”.
Blanco agrees with Vallejo: “We try to imagine the stages, because not even the route that the organization projects later matches the real one. You have to look at the map and try to take a track and calculate more or less where the race is going to go. It helps us to know the terrain where we are going to run, but as Diego says, we only get out of doubt once we start and face each stage ”.
What teams can do is practice with their own car before the race. The two crews of the Astara Team have carried out various tests in places such as Zaragoza, Tunisia or Madrid to understand a bit more the vehicle with which they will compete and adapt to it. Calleja and Blanco already competed in the 01 Concept in Baja Aragón and achieved victory in the T1.2 category… A dream start, no doubt!
Digital roadbook ten minutes before departure, a helping hand for the co-drivers
Last year the digital roadbook was released, leaving behind the already classic paper road books. This year will be the first time that both Vallejo and Blanco will use it in the race, and although it is something completely new for both of them, they have been able to train with similar systems.
“I have already raced in the Rally of Andalusia with the digital roadbook and I have to say that the system seems adequate to me. They already give it to us with directions and that is a great help for the co-drivers, because before, at the end of the day, we had to set ourselves to mark the dangerous places, change course and analyze it … sometimes we barely slept! It could easily take us four or five hours, ”says Blanco, who has been a codriver for no less than 30 years and has worked in other different jobs inside motorsport. He thought the change would cost him more to adapt to.
“Thanks to my friends at CleverCAP, I have also been able to train in Galicia with a system similar to that of the Dakar, which has allowed me to remove the doubts I had about this new road book. It’s interesting, it seems comfortable, and it also levels things out comparing to the rest of the teams… since we all receive the roadbook for each day at the same time ”, adds Vallejo.
Since last year, teams have received the roadbook ten minutes before the start of the stage, which takes out a lot of workload from the codrivers, since all the dangers and information marked in the road book are already there. At the same time, the organization prevents cheating by conducting a tour examination the night before.