Race2Recovery Dakar record20 | 01 | 2013

    RACE2RECOVERY, THE TEAM created by injured British servicemen, many of who are amputees, became not only the first disabled team to enter the Dakar Rally, but the first to finish (see more official photos of Race2Recovery in the Dakar Rally).

    The team, led by Captain Tony Harris, documented their progress through the gruelling 6000 miles across South America for Scotcars.

    Sunday, January 20

    After the tension and euphoria of yesterday, the celebratory parade through Santiago de Chile was a chance for the Race2Recovery team to drink in their Dakar success.

    Chile's capital put on a great show with thousands of people turning out to cheer on a tired old Wildcat, driven by Matt O'Hare and Philip 'Barney' Gillespie.

    After a tour of the city centre, the whole team climbed the Dakar podium for a moment that marked the culmination of two years' hard work.

    "It's just an incredible feeling," said O'Hare. "Our goal was to be the first predominantly disabled team to finish the Dakar and we made it.

    "I drove up on to the podium with half the team sat on the car. Some of the guys were waving their prosthetics in the air to celebrate. A crazy day, but one that makes all the hard work worthwhile."

    Gillespie becomes the first amputee ever to complete the Dakar Rally.

    "When I stood on the start line in Lima, Peru, all this felt so far away. Then when Joy started overheating and we had to pull over every 30km, it felt even further away. But we made it and it's been great to share this moment with the rest of the team."

    Joining the celebrations were Justin Birchall and Lee Townsend, who were involved in a tragic road traffic accident in the first week of the rally.

    "I've got some broken ribs and I'm feeling beaten up but I wasn't going to miss this," Birchall said. "It was a horrific accident and our thoughts are with the families of those who didn't survive."

    John Winskill, the third member of the team injured in the accident, is back in the UK receiving treatment but passed on his congratulations.

    "Having Justin and Lee back with is another positive for everyone," team manager Andrew 'Pav' Taylor said.

    "Race2Recovery has always been about injured servicemen going beyond injury to achieve the extraordinary, but we never expected the Dakar to be quite as extraordinary as this.

    "The last couple of weeks have been more intense than any of us ever imagined, but we came through it all together and I'm immensely proud of everyone. Now let's start the party."

    Saturday, January 19

    At 6.30pm local time, Corporal Philip ‘Barney’ Gillespie crossed the finish line in Santiago de Chile to become the first amputee ever to complete the Dakar Rally.

    Co-driver Gillespie and driver Major Matt O’Hare were cheered across the line by the whole Race2Recovery team as they completed an extraordinary journey. For the past two weeks and 5500 miles, the duo have guided their troublesome rally car, nicknamed ‘Joy’, through some of the world’s toughest, most desolate terrain.

    “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Gillespie said. “We’ve just taken it stage by stage and now we’re here at the finish. There were times when we were tackling huge sand dunes in the middle of the night that we thought we couldn’t possibly continue, but somehow we kept each other going.

    "Like so many of the team, I’ve experienced some dark times over the past few years and I hope that by completing the Dakar I’ll inspire others to take on extraordinary challenges.”

    Over the past fortnight the Race2Recovery team has shed tears of pain and frustration, but today there were only tears of joy for Joy. For two years, this novice team of injured servicemen has battled against the odds to take on the toughest rally in the world. Today, they achieved their goal of making it to the end.

    “After everything we’ve been through, this is an incredible feeling,” team manager, army medic Andrew ‘Pav’ Taylor said. “There have been many times over the past two years, and even over the past two weeks, when this felt like an impossible dream, but here we are. We have an amazing team and everyone has played their part in this success. Now we can celebrate.”

    Tomorrow, all the vehicles that have completed the rally will enjoy a ceremonial parade through the streets of Santiago de Chile and a visit to the Dakar podium.

    “I can’t wait,” O’Hare said. “It’s been an amazing journey that I’ll never forget. I’m so proud of Barney and the whole team.”

    For amputees Captain Tony Harris and Corporal Tom Neathway, who launched the Race2Recovery project while undergoing rehabilitation, it was an emotional moment. Both started the rally but had to retire after mechanical problems.

    “Tom and I are obviously disappointed not to finish ourselves, but this project has always been about the team, not the individual,” Harris said. “We’re going to enjoy the parade tomorrow then focus on raising money for the Tedworth House Personal Recovery Centre.”

    Saturday, January 19 

    Race2Recovery, the group of predominantly injured soldiers who formed a rally team to raise funds for Forces charities, were today celebrating making history by becoming the first ever disability team to complete the world’s toughest race – the Dakar Rally.

    The team’s Land Rover Defender-based Wildcat race vehicle and its crew, of driver Major Matt O’Hare and co-driver Corporal Phillip Gillespie, completed their achievement as they crossed the finish line of the final stage in Santiago, Chile, on Saturday evening to signal the end of an extraordinary two weeks of racing that saw the team’s other three Wildcat vehicles fall out of the race at various stages along the way.

     Major O’Hare and Corporal Gillespie were quick to praise their teammates, including the mechanics and support team, as they spoke shortly after completing the final stage. 

    Major O’Hare, 32, originally from Hereford and currently based in Earlsfield, London, said: “It’s not quite sinking in that we’ve actually done it. I’m ecstatic and am so proud and pleased for the whole Race2Recovery team. Our mechanics and support team have kept us in the race and their work and dedication was second to none. 

    "Our other drivers and co-drivers who were forced to retire earlier in the race became an integral part of the support team as we continued the challenge and so this really is a team success. To complete the Dakar Rally is an incredible achievement in itself, but to become the first ever disability team to cross that finish line lifts the achievement to a whole other level.”

    Corporal Phillip Gillespie, 24, from Ballymena, Northern Ireland, who is a leg amputee as a result of injuries sustained in Afghanistan, said: “We have found out first-hand why they call the Dakar Rally the hardest race in the world. 

    "It has pushed every single one us to our limits and beyond. To be able to stand here at the finish line and say we achieved what we set out to achieve, to become the first ever disability team to complete the Dakar Rally, feels magical. 

    "Our team motto is ‘beyond injury – achieving the extraordinary’ and we’ve done just that. I hope that we’ve been able to inspire people who may be facing difficulties through injury or illness. 

    "The support we’ve received from everyone – our sponsors, supporters, families, friends, the military and  complete strangers – has been amazing and is testament to the ability and dedication of this team.”


    Race2Recovery Team Manager, Warrant Officer Andrew Taylor, 40, who suffered a serious back injury after being caught in a suicide bomb attack during active service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, said: “The support that this team has received, from back home and also from the people of Peru, Argentina and Chile, has been first class. 

    "People from all over the world have been sending messages of support to the team and the closer we got to the finish the more these messages flooded in. The Race2Recovery challenge really seems to have captured the imagination of the public and we can’t thank everyone enough. 

    "One of our biggest aims has been to raise money for Tedworth House Personnel Recovery Centre. Many of our team members, their families and people we know have benefitted from the recovery process that supports our country’s injured servicemen and women. 

    "I would urge anyone that has followed our team, and is celebrating its success, to visit our website and make a donation to this fantastic cause”.


    Captain Tony Harris, 31, one of Race2Recovery’s rally drivers who is a below the knee amputee as a result of injuries suffered while serving in Afghanistan, said: “To be standing here in Santiago knowing we’ve finished, two weeks after starting out on this epic journey, feels absolutely brilliant. 

    "The team have shown huge dedication, going without sleep and putting in some serious hours of hard work, whether as the drivers, co-drivers or support team. We’re also very mindful that three of our members weren’t able to follow the whole journey with us after being injured in a road traffic accident earlier on the event. 

    "We’re very grateful that they have all made a good recovery but our thoughts have always been with those others involved in the accident who were less fortunate and our sympathy remains with their families.”


    The Race2Recovery team’s four Wildcat race vehicles took to the start line in Lima, Peru on the morning of Saturday, January 5, signalling the start of 15 days of racing 9000km over extreme mountain and desert terrain. 

    The first car eliminated from the race was that of Captain Tony Harris and his co-driver Cathy Derousseaux, who were disqualified after they did not pass sufficient way points on Stage 2 after having experienced mechanic issues during that stage.  A few days later, the race car of driver Justin Birchall and co-driver Corporal Tom Neathway was forced to retire after mechanical issues caused by a particularly punishing Stage 4 that saw a host of other vehicles also retire. 

    On Stage 6, the third car of driver Ben Gott and co-driver US Marine SSgt Mark Zambon hit a ditch at speed and rolled. Whilst they avoided any serious injury the damage to the car meant they were unable to continue the race.

    However, the team’s Wildcat vehicle ‘Joy’, donated to the team by the Peter Harrison Foundation and named after Peter’s wife, Joy, who sadly passed away in September last year, remained firmly in the race. 

    Suffering from some over-heating problems during the first half of the rally, the team were regularly forced to do more of their driving at night. However, the team’s mechanics were able to do major work to the vehicle on the event rest day, fixing a number of issues and enabling Major O’Hare and Corporal Gillespie to make great progress through the second week.


    Friday, January 18

    We stood on top of the dune for three hours. It was thirty-five degrees Celsius, we could see for over 20km and we could see no-one else. Sun cream was applied, cameras were readied, GPS coordinates were confirmed and then Robby Gordon’s Hummer appeared, powering up the sand with an angry snarl. Man and machine were in charge of nature.

    Gordon was followed by the other leading cars in the Dakar Rally; a plethora of garish, million dollar specials built for the sand. Then the front running trucks arrived, looking as incongruous as ever as they monstered their way up the giant sandcastles.

    Time moved on and the mid-field arrived, zig-zagging their way up the dune as they fought for traction. We waited some more and then, in the distance, there was the faint cry of a familiar V8 engine.

    Out of the dust came ‘Joy’, Race2Recovery’s remaining Wildcat. Driver Major Matt O’Hare traversed the dune, turned right and powered on. We pointed our cameras and co-driver Cpl Philip ‘Barney’ Gillespie even had time to wave. Joy took a breath, gulped down a litre of fuel, crested the dune and disappeared.

    It’s only by witnessing it in close quarters that you get a true sense of the scale of the Dakar. By the time they arrived at the dune, all the crews had travelled over 5000 miles and everyone had endured some sort of drama. This was the second to last stage but there was let up. That’s why they call it the world’s toughest rally.

    Today’s stage lasted 441km and there was an additional 294km of road sections before the cars arrived at the Dakar’s final bivouac. Joy exited the special stage at around 11.30pm local time and as she followed the road route to camp, team manager Andrew ‘Pav’ Taylor summed up Race2Recovery’s feelings:

    “It’s been long, hard day, but we’ve ticked off another special stage. All the team’s mechanics are waiting in the bivouac for the car’s return and they’ll work as long as it takes to prepare her for the final stage tomorrow. The Dakar can bite at any time and no-one is getting complacent.”

    Taylor, who was seriously injured by a suicide bomber while serving in Afghanistan, is the rock on which Race2Recovery is built and over the past fortnight has done an incredible job of guiding the team through adversity.

    Tomorrow is the Dakar’s last serious stage before a ceremonial finish in Santiago de Chile on Sunday. It spans 346km with the potential for heartbreak at every turn. Tonight, as the team prepare ‘Joy’ for one final mission, they will be hoping that she, Barney and Matt can conquer the Dakar one more time.


    Thursday, January 17

    Today the Dakar Rally crossed back over the Andes to Copiapó, Chile. The journey began with a 392km road section, which should have been a relaxing drive through some of the world’s most desolate and dramatic scenery. But the absence of tarmac made the route over the mountains as perilous as a special stage.

    The heady cocktail of giant Dakar trucks, dirt tracks and an altitude approaching 5000m, made for moments of genuine jeopardy. One of the team’s Land Rover Discovery support vehicles was clipped by a competitor car and now bears a Dakar wound. It was a relief that ‘Joy’, the team’s remaining Wildcat rally raid car, made it to the start of the special stage unscathed.

    Today’s stage started in Chile and saw the return of the dreaded Dakar dunes. In the soft, sandy conditions, getting stuck is an ever-present danger and for the Race2Recovery team, this was made worse by a technical malfunction.

    “Joy wasn’t starting properly,” explained driver Major Matt O’Hare. “This meant we were paranoid about stalling or getting stuck in the sand. It was all about keeping going and conserving momentum.” As I write, the mechanics are preparing to work through the night to fix the problem.

    O’Hare was full of praise for his co-driver, Cpl Philip ‘Barney’ Gillespie, an amputee injured in a bomb blast in Afghanistan.

    "Barney did an amazing job today,” said O’Hare. “We hit every waypoint and at one point we overtook several cars just because we were able to navigate our way around a huge dune.”

    Gillespie’s skills and chirpy demeanour have been a key factor in the team’s success. “It’s another stage ticked off but I’m really trying to focus on taking each day as it comes and not to think too much about getting to the end,” he explained.

    No sooner was he out of the car than he was being handed the routebook for tomorrow’s stage, which includes a 441km offroad section.

    While Joy was out playing in the dunes, the team’s US Marines, SSgt Mark Zambon and Cpl Tim Read, took time out to visit Robby Gordon, who was the first American to win a stage of the Dakar. Gordon devotes his life to winning the rally (he was second on today’s stage) and lives in a different world of posh transporters and hotel rooms. He was, though, hugely impressed with Race2Recovery’s efforts:  

    “To do this event with two legs is hard enough,” the American said, “but to take it on with only one or even no legs is incredible. This is a badass event and these guys are doing an awesome job.”

    Wednesday, January 16

    There’s little to report today. The perilous stage from La Rioja to Fiambalá was cancelled due to flooding. The whole rally has thus been teleported forwards a day. “

    I just can’t believe it’s been cancelled,” said Major Matt O’Hare, “My co-driver, ‘Barney’ (Phillip Gillespie), and I were so looking forward to the dunes.”

    The broad grin on his face betrayed his sarcasm. Right now it’s all about getting the team’s one remaining Wildcat, nicknamed ‘Joy’, to the finish and after everything they’ve endured in the past ten days, no-one would deny this team a stroke of good fortune.

    The goodwill being shown to ‘Team Joy’ right now is nothing short of extraordinary. Driver Major Matt O’Hare and co-driver Cpl Philip ‘Barney’ Gillespie, an amputee after injuries sustained in Afghanistan, and their Wildcat ‘Joy’, are developing a bit of a cult following.

    Every night the team plug in their Inmarsat sat phones to catch up with home. The social media buzz around #teamjoy is huge, but some fans are going beyond a Facebook message of support.

    An as yet unconfirmed rumour has reached camp that one supporter has had a ‘Team Joy’ tattoo. If it’s you and you’re reading this, the team would like to hear from you via their Facebook page or Twitter @race2recovery


    Tuesday, January 15

    According to the official Dakar guide, today’s stage might have reminded, “the most open-minded of participants of Ireland in some places.” Race2Recovery’s resident Irishman, Philip ‘Barney’ Gillespie, wasn’t convinced. “I don’t remember it ever being forty degrees Celsius in Ireland,” he said, “and we’re more into mud than dust.”

    Gillespie was in high spirits after another good day. While everyone is keeping everything crossed, the overheating problems that blighted the car in the first week appear to have been alleviated.

    “Argentina has been good to us so far,” driver Matt O’Hare says. “It’s a beautiful country and the stages are fun. It’s unbelievably hot out there but we’re loving it.”

    Right now, Joy is proving true to Kipling’s old adage about keeping your head while all around them are losing theirs. Both the team’s eight-wheel support trucks threw a strop yesterday and will play no further part in the rally. As Joy, O’Hare and Gillespie left for the stage start, the rest of the team was busy re-packing all the team’s equipment.

    The Renault Kerax race truck is now looking a lot less racy as a packhorse. Everything that wouldn’t fit into the truck has been loaded into the team’s Land Rover Discovery support vehicles. The team now has a super-slim look, but tonight the mechanics will go to work as normal.

    Argentina has been a great friend to the rally. Everywhere we go, we’re mobbed. The team’s mechanics have had to perfect their autographs, even signing body parts on occasion. This afternoon, the cameraman filming a documentary about the team looked somewhat bemused to be handed a baby for a photograph.

    The drivers and co-drivers, though, are the undoubted stars of the Dakar. O’Hare was even described as ‘lindo’ (handsome) by an attractive Argentinean. Maybe she would have thought him marginally less cool if she knew that he and Gillespie completed the road section today singing along to country and western.

    Tomorrow’s stage takes the teams from tonight’s bivouac in La Rioja to Fiambalá, where the rally returns to the dreaded dunes for a 481km special stage. Don’t think for a moment that the Dakar gets any easier as it reaches its climax.

    Monday, January 14

    As if to punish the drivers for having a rest, the organisers made the ninth stage of the Dakar the longest in this year’s event. This was an 852km epic, from Tucumán to Cordoba that included a 593km special stage. For the Race2Recovery team and their one remaining Wildcat, ‘Joy’, it would present another fearsome test.

    On Sunday, the team’s mechanics had spent the ‘rest’ day trying to solve the cooling and fuelling problems that have blighted Joy since the beginning of the rally. Everyone went to bed knowing their handiwork would be tested in the forty degrees heat of Argentina.

    Major Matt O’Hare and co-driver Cpl Philip ‘Barney’ Gillespie left the bivouac at 8.30am to begin another marathon adventure. Today’s stage would focus on tight, gravel tracks, the sort of terrain employed by the World Rally Championship when it visits Argentina. The special stage was split into two parts, linked by a section of road.

    It was the hottest day of the rally, but the intrepid trio – O’Hare, Gillespie and Joy – emerged from the first section of the stage in buoyant mood.

    “Joy hasn’t overheated once,” said O’Hare, “we’ve actually been overtaking other cars. It’s a fantastic feeling.” Gillespie, an amputee who lost his right leg serving in Afghanistan, was equally ebullient. “It might just be that we can complete the stage without driving through the night.”

    They are also having to get used to superstar status. ‘Joy’ was mobbed when she pulled into a filling station to refuel. It’s doubtful that even Argentinean golden boy Lionel Messi would have received as much attention as the two guys in dirty overalls and a tired old car. After completing the rest of the stage, Joy finally rolled into the bivouac just before 1am.

    "This was supposed to be the longest stage in the Dakar, but it wasn't for us," said Gillespie. "I'm off to bed."

    At this point, you might be thinking that was the first trouble-free day the Race2Recovery team has experienced in the Dakar, but you’d be wrong. Both of the team’s giant support trucks broke down on route, leaving the crews stranded by the roadside. The supporters now had to become the supported.

    An improvised roadside clutch change got one of the vehicles mobile again, but the other truck had to be towed by the team’s T4 race truck for almost 300km to the bivouac. It finally arrived after midnight.

    These trucks contain the team’s infrastructure and spare parts. All the team’s support vehicles, including the Land Rover Discovery vehicles that carry team members from stage to stage, have a critical role to play. At first light, the team will be working hard to find a solution and get them back on the road. For the exhausted team members, this is yet another extraordinary twist in a crazy story.

    “It’s been a tough, tough day again,” says Charles Sincock, who drove the T4. “But the great news is that Joy’s doing well. That’s what’s keeping us going.”

    While Sincock tries to fix his truck, co-driver Cpl Tom Neathway is trying to mend his right prosthetic leg, which has broken down in the heat and dust. He’s currently attempting to recharge it using one of the Discovery cars. If Race2Recovery was a Hollywood script, no-one would believe it.


    Sunday, January 13

    Today was the Dakar’s only rest day and the drivers and co-drivers had a decent night’s sleep for the first time in a week. For those still left in the rally it was also a chance to reflect on the hard work done and to look ahead to another challenging week. Tomorrow is the longest stage of the rally, an 852km epic to Córdoba that includes a 593km special stage. In temperatures that are likely to hit 45 degrees Celsius, it will be another extraordinary test of endurance.

    A total of 451 race vehicles started this year’s Dakar Rally; 183 motorbikes, 40 quad bikes, 153 cars and 75 trucks.  At the end of the first half of the Dakar, which has seen those vehicles travel between 4300-4550km, the number of vehicles out of the race stood at 110 – making a current drop-out rate of 24%.  Of these, 70 were withdrawn, 33 did not make a specific stage start time and 7 were expelled. 

    For the mechanics, today was anything but a rest day. The team’s mechanics have been working all day to fix the problems that have blighted the team’s remaining Wildcat, ‘Joy’, since the first stage.

    “We’ve had a huge list of things to do,” says mechanic Sean Whatley. “On the Dakar you’ve got limited resources so you need some lateral thinking. We’ve done everything we can to improve the cooling for the fuel system, even scavenging parts from our retired cars to improve the efficiency of the radiators. Joy has new oil and new tyres and she’s ready to go. The next few days are going to be tough for all of us, but we’re ready for the challenge.”

    Sunday, January 13

    The team was delighted to welcome Major Matt O’Hare and Cpl Phillip ‘Barney’ Gillespie back to the bivouac after Stage 8.  The mechanics have set straight to work on their race car, Joy, while Matt and Barney will be getting some much needed rest. 

    Today is the rest day, which allows the mechanics to have extra time to work on the race vehicle and drivers extra time to sleep and recover at the half way stage. 

    With many more experienced competitors already out of the competition, the rest day should also give the team the opportunity to reflect on what an outstanding achievement it is to have made the half-way stage.

    Saturday, January 12

    Today was supposed to be another monster for the Race2Recovery team, but then the rain came and washed away the jeopardy. The special stage was cut short by flash floods and the team retired to the bivouac in Tucumán, Argentina, in spirits as high as the altitude.

    Sunday will be the Dakar’s only rest day. It’s an opportunity for the drivers and co-drivers to catch up on sleep, but the mechanics will be hard at work prepping the car for the week ahead.

    “Calling it a ‘rest’ day is a bit of a misnomer,” reckons Team Manager Andrew 'Pav' Taylor. “For the mechanics, it’s probably the busiest day of the rally.”

    Taylor is an impressive guy. An army medic who was injured in an attack by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, he has led Race2Recovery through an extraordinary week.

    “Introduction’s to the Dakar come no tougher than this,” he admits. “It’s been hard, but we’ve kept going. These were exceptional guys even before they were injured and they’ve all shown incredible character.

    "Our first target when we arrived was to get to the rest day. We achieved that with one of our Wildcats. Now the next target is to get to the finish in Santiago de Chile on January 20th.”


    Friday, January 11

    A third Race2Recovery Wildcat race vehicle has been forced to retire from the Dakar Rally as a result of an in-race accident whilst the team’s fourth race car has progressed into Stage 7, it was announced today. 

    Driver Ben Gott and co-driver SSgt Mark Zambon were racing across the desert in Chile on Stage 6 of the competition when their Wildcat race vehicle hit a ditch and rolled several times. 

     Gott requested immediate medical assistance using the in-car safety system. A medical team was scrambled by the event organisers, while a Dutch race crew, competing in the T4 class, was alerted by the organisers as they were close to the scene. 

    The Dutch team was able to right the car and help remove SSgt Zambon from the vehicle. Gott, who complained of back pain, remained in the vehicle until the arrival of the ASO organisers’ medical team. 

    Both Gott and SSgt Zambon were treated at the scene.  Gott, 35,  has suffered injury to his back and was transferred to a local hospital in Calama, Chile, for care and further tests.   He has since been discharged. 

    SSgt Zambon, who suffered bruising, was taken for observation at the medical centre at the event bivouac. Relatives of the injured duo have been informed.

    Ben Gott,  from Alton in Hampshire, is one of the civilian experts on the team and has been involved in off-road racing for many years.  He first joined the team in an advisory capacity, with extensive mechanical experience, and later became one of the four team race drivers. 

    Double- amputee SSgt Mark Zambon, 27, is one two US Marines on the Race2Recovery team and is based in San Diego and originally from Marquette, Michigan. 

    SSgt Zambon was a bomb technician responsible for dismantling the countless numbers of home-made explosives hidden all over Iraq and Afghanistan. He had been injured in explosions four times but it was the fifth time, on January 11, 2011, in Sangin, Afghanistan, that resulted in the loss of both his legs and a recovery period that would take 18 months. 

    Only five months into that recovery, SSgt Zambon signed up to take part in a challenge through The Heroes Project, which would eventually see him reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in July 2012.

    The remaining Race2Recovery race vehicle of driver Major Matt O’Hare, from Earlsfield, London and co-driver Cpl Phillip Gillespie, from Ballymena, Northern Ireland was confirmed as finishing yesterday’s Stage 6. 

    Their car has passed through today’s time control to signal its start on Stage 7, first travelling on the liaison route before starting the special stage.  Stage 7 stretches 754km from Calama, Chile to Salta, Argentina and includes the 220km timed special stage.

    Team manager Warrant Officer Andrew Taylor said: “It’s been a baptism of fire and we’ve experienced everything that goes hand in hand with the Dakar Rally, which we can now testify as to being the toughest race in the world.  The team has performed in an outstanding way given the scale of the challenge and has put in hours and hours of hard graft during all hours of the day.”

    On Wednesday, three other members of the Race2Recovery team, John Winskill, Justin Birchall and Lee Townsend were injured in a serious road traffic accident when the Land Rover Defender (a team  support vehicle not a race vehicle) that they were travelling in was involved in a collision in which two Peruvian civilians died and left several others injured. 

    Winskill, Birchall and Townsend were transferred to a local hospital close to the scene in Tacna, Peru, before being flown to a hospital in Lima, Peru for further tests and treatment.  The three team members are described as stable and recovering well. 

    Today, they released a joint statement saying:  "The three injured team members of Race2Recovery, John Winskill, Justin Birchall and Lee Townsend, would like to extend their heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of the two people who lost their lives in the tragic incident that took place near Tacna in Peru on 9th January. They would also like to wish a full and speedy recovery to those others who were hurt alongside themselves.

    “Their thanks and gratitude go out to the hospital staff and authorities from both Tacna and Lima for their help and for treating them with such kindness and respect which has been so typical of the Peruvian people throughout their stay. They greatly appreciate the members of the ASO, the organisers of the Dakar Rally, who assisted them both personally and behind the scenes throughout the rally and after they sustained their injuries. The injured Race2Recovery members are very sad to be leaving the Dakar rally under such unfortunate circumstances and wish their fellow team members the very best in their continuing endeavours".

    Thursday, January 10

    Three British members of the Race2Recovery team competing in the Dakar Rally in South America have been badly injured in a road traffic accident, it was confirmed early today.

    Their vehicle, a Land Rover Defender (a team support vehicle not a race car) was involved in a head-on collision while travelling in convoy on Day 5 of the challenge with other support vehicles in the town of Tacna, in Peru near the Chilean border.

    It is understood that two other vehicles were involved in the accident and two people received fatal injuries and others were injured.

    The three Race2Recovery members are Justin Birchall, 40, a team driver and civilian volunteer from Burnley, Lancashire, whose Wildcat vehicle retired earlier in the race; former Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineer and Gulf War and Falklands war veteran Lee Townsend, a team mechanic, from Yate near Bristol; and retired Army Major John Winskill, aged 42, the team logistics expert  from Durrington, near Salisbury, Wilts.

    The men were transferred to a local hospital and later flown from Tacna by an Antonov aircraft to hospital in Lima where they are said to be ‘stable and conscious.” Their injuries were described as “non-life-threatening.” Their families have been informed of the accident by other team members.

    Team leader Captain Tony Harris said: “Our hearts go out to the families and relatives of those who have died in this tragic accident and we offer them our condolences and sympathy. Our entire team has been struck by the friendliness and support we have received from the Peruvian people since arriving for the Dakar Rally.”

    Captain Harris said that the Team had unanimously agreed to continue the challenge with the two remaining Wildcat vehicles.

    “The team decided before we even started that we would continue our endeavour. This is obviously a huge shock but we know that we have the blessing of the injured. They want the team to finish,” he said.

    The accident is being investigated by the local police in Peru and the team is being supported by the race organisers.

    Wednesday, January 9

    The Race2Recovery team of injured soldiers and civilian volunteers currently competing in this year’s Dakar Rally today confirmed that two of its cars have made it through a gruelling fourth day to compete in Stage 5, whilst another car has been forced to retire.    

    There was good news for the Race2Recovery crew of Major Matt O’Hare and Corporal Phillip Gillespie whose vehicle successfully finished Tuesday’s Stage 4 and was confirmed as starting today’s Stage 5.   

    In addition, the crew of Ben Gott and SSgt Mark Zambon, who had been delayed after they stopped to help other teams in difficulty, has been confirmed for entry into today’s Stage 5 which will see the cars travel from Arequipa in Peru to Arica, just over the Chilean border.  The stage totals 337km, including the 172km timed special stage. 

    The Race2Recovery Wildcat of driver Justin Birchall and co-driver Corporal Tom Neathway suffered mechanical failure as a result of major damage caused by a punishing run on Stage 4.  Both Birchall and Neathway were confirmed as safe but have been forced to retire their vehicle from the race.  Their Wildcat vehicle was kindly donated to the team by the family of Gordon Chapman, who sadly passed away before he had chance to use the vehicle in his own plans to race in the Dakar.

    “We’re distraught at not being able to continue in the rally and get Gordon’s car to the finish line,” said Corporal Neathway. “We felt very passionate about the fact that we wanted to get to the finish in Gordon’s memory, given the donation of the car from his family after he passed away. 

    "However, I hope that we have made the family proud by what we have achieved to date and the fact that the Race2Recovery team is still pushing forward. 

    "On a personal note, I’m gutted that after all our training and hard work we have had to retire, but I hope our efforts in the build-up, and in our four days of racing, have helped inspire other people to challenge themselves, no matter what their disability, illness or adverse circumstances.  We will now throw ourselves into supporting the remaining Race2Recovery team members that are still competing.”

    Justin Birchall added “It’s clearly a sad way for myself and Tom to end our rally and we’re very disappointed that we’re not able to compete any further. That said, we have also been reflecting on the achievement that was simply getting to the start line and also the fantastic support that Race2Recovery continues to receive.  We will be doing everything we can to support the team as it continues to try and push its way towards the finish line”.

    Tuesday, January 8

    This morning, the team woke to the sad news that the Wildcat of Captain Tony Harris and Cathy Derousseaux has been excluded from the Dakar Rally. Having returned to the bivouac after midnight at the end of Stage 2, the team were allowed to start yesterday’s stage pending an analysis of the previous day’s results.

    A committee of the race organisers met yesterday and based on the evidence before them determined that Harris and Derousseaux had not reached sufficient way points to be allowed to continue in the rally.

    “In the back of our minds, we thought this might be a possibility,” Harris admitted, “but we powered through yesterday’s stage without difficulty and were looking forwards to another successful day today.

    "After two years of hard work, it’s heartbreaking for Cathy and I, but the Race2Recovery project has always been about the team and we must remember that we still have three Wildcats competing strongly in the rally. Cathy and I will now do everything we can to support them as they strive to reach the finish.  We’ll be the team’s official cheerleaders!”

    Team Principal Quinn Evans echoed Harris’ words. “It’s obviously disappointing for the whole team but we respect the ASO’s decision. We’ll refocus all our efforts on making sure that three remaining cars have the best chance possible of reaching the finish line in Santiago de Chile.”

    Team Manager Andrew ‘Pav’ Taylor expressed his disappointment but reflected on the huge contribution that Captain Harris has made and will continue to make to the team.

    “Tony and I have been involved in the Race2Recovery project since its inception and without him, we simply wouldn’t been here," he said." Having driven so brilliantly on yesterday’s stage, the news is doubly disappointing, but we all accept the organiser’s decision. Tony’s taken the news with the dignity and mental fortitude that we’ve come to recognise over the past two years and it’s a measure of the man that within minutes of being told, he was talking to me about how he and Cathy can help the team reach our common goal of reaching the finish. ”

    Monday, January 7

    “At 50km we thought we were out of the rally,” reckoned Marine Staff Sergeant Mark Zambon. “We had a major gearbox problem but we worked with the other Wildcat of Justin (Birchall) and Tom (Neathway) and we fixed it in the stage. Then the power steering broke. For 250km Ben (Gott) drove through the dunes using only the strength of his forearms. Thankfully, he spent a fair bit of time in the gym over Christmas.” Both problems will be fixed overnight.

    After the travails of yesterday, these mishaps seemed almost routine for the team. On a day when many more experienced outfits suffered terminal problems, all four Wildcats made it safely to the bivouac. As I write, the cars are being fettled by the team’s mechanics, while the crews work on their notes for tomorrow’s stage, a 717km epic that includes a 288km timed section. The third stage has not been without difficulties for the team’s race truck, though, which broke down and is currently being repaired in the dunes.

    Everything about this event is epic. There are 459 vehicles in the rally from fifty-three countries and each night, the bivouac is home to 3000 people. There’s a designated canteen, a handful of showers and sinks that sometimes contain water. Under the lights at night, it looks more like a scene from a Mad Max movie than a motorsport event, but that’s all part of the Dakar’s charm.

    Sunday, January 6

    Day 2 on the Dakar brought more drama for the Race2Recovery team. The Wildcat of Tony Harris and Cathy Derousseaux suffered technical problems on the 242 km stage and was assisted by the team’s race truck. The car was repaired successfully and the duo drove on into the night through some of the toughest dunes they’ll face in the rally.

    They made it back to the bivouac but were concerned they’d missed some way points along the way. The team consulted the rally organisers and although they have incurred significant time penalties, the car has been given a start number for today.

     “The last forty-eight hours have been an emotional rollercoaster,” Harris said. “It’s been an incredibly tough start for us, but the car’s fixed, I’ve snatched some sleep and we’re off to the start line. The team’s doing an amazing job. We still have all four cars running and we’re learning all the time.”

    For Matt O’Hare and ‘Barney’ Gillespie, this was another day of quiet endeavour in their beloved Wildcat ‘Joy’. Regular followers of Race2Recovery will appreciate that ‘Joy’ has often been a troubling cat and today was no different. Rumours circulated in the bivouac this evening that the duo were in trouble, but at 9.20 and forty minutes before the official cut-off, Joy rolled in to camp.

    “She kept overheating every thirty kilometres. So we’d stop, take a break and let her cool down,” Gillespie said. “Matt did a brilliant job and she kept going. The last few kilometres were incredible. I’ve never seen dunes like that and we were navigating through them in the dark. This is everything I thought the Dakar would be, and then some.” 

    Ben Gott and US Marine Mark Zambon had a trouble free day in their Wildcat. “It’s the mental exhaustion that’s the biggest challenge,” Zambon said. “You’re watching three different instruments for a seven hours during the stage, while also trying to watch the terrain. The Dakar’s everything I expected, it’s pushing my limits time and again but I know that Ben and I can handle this as a team.”

    The Anglo-American partnership were joined on the stage by the Wildcat of Justin Birchall and Tom Neathway, who also enjoyed a trouble free run.

    Team Principal, Quin Evans, said: “this was one of the most challenging first days we’ve ever seen in the Dakar with extremely tough dune sections that caused many experienced competitors a headache. As I go to bed many of them are still fighting their way back through the stage. All our teams have done a great job — for Matt (O’Hare) and Barney (Phillip Gillespie) to navigate back through the night was an awesome achievement. ”

    Keep up-to-date with all the latest news by following us on twitter.com/scotcars

    Jim McGill


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