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Battered Cars Cross Africa in Mock Dakar Rally

Rally Racing Audio Topics:  Plymouth-Banjul Challenge

Battered Cars Cross Africa in Mock Dakar Rally

Kari Barber/VOA News
Janaury 20, 2007

Audio Version - 281KB - 2:16 - RealPlayer

As Senegal prepares for the finale of the world-renowned Dakar Rally, another group of drivers is taking on an even more unusual Europe to Africa journey.  The Plymouth-Banjul Challenge is a parody of the Dakar rally in which participants drive cars that cost less than $200 from England to Gambia to benefit charities.  Kari Barber caught up with one wave of participants on the last leg of their journey in northern Senegal and has this report.

They may sound rough, but these cars have covered thousands of kilometers through mountains and desert sandstorms on their way to the Gambia to be auctioned for charity.

Organizers of the three-week-long event admit they picked the least experienced applicants.

Pharmaceutical worker Kristen Harper had to leave her 1992 Opal Omega behind in the Moroccan desert when her group could not repair the radiator.

"There have been two points where I thought, 'This is not worth it.  I am going home.' That was the first one where I thought, 'I want my mommy,'" she said.

They were picked up by Roger Norum, who was making the drive alone.  Norum says he knows about cars, but this trip has forced him to get more creative.  He repaired a muffler using a clothes hanger and duct tape.

"If you look around and see some of the MacGyver [television character] quick fixes that some people have done to some of the their cars, it is really a testament to the human imagination," he noted.

Drivers were supposed to spend less than $30 on pre-race repairs.  With no support trucks or helicopters in this rally, drivers rely on one another when they break down.

Stuart Devon says his BMW has broken down more than 300 times. 

"We might have broken a little bit of a suspension, we have got a hole in our exhaust you can fit your head in and the back box is missing," he said.  "We put a whole in our fuel tank, but we are not using it so it does not matter."

In place of the fuel tank Devon and his partner have fuel lines running out of the hood, through the sunroof and into a jerry in the back seat.

"It is brilliant because it should not be here.  Not only because it is broken down all the time, but it is just not designed to go anywhere near a beach let alone a desert in a sandstorm," he added.

As the group rumbles and rattles its way to the start line on this day's stage, Devon says he does not think the Dakar Rally can compare to this race.

"If I did it again, I would want to do it in a stupid car again," he explained.

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