It’s an off-road race for cars, trucks and motorcycles that runs for two weeks around South America. It used to start in Paris on New Year’s Day and finish in the capital of Senegal, but the competitors got sick of bullet holes in their cars and the French organisers got sick of the terrorist threats so they shifted the whole thing across the Atlantic for 2009 and took the Dakar name with them.
Aussies started competing after the organisers provided a little financial encouragement for their 20th anniversary in 1997.
A 28-year-old ‘rookie’ from Gawler called Andy Haydon made the most of the opportunity and finished third. This year, a 27-year-old rookie from Newcastle called Toby Price finished third.
In between those two there’s been a steady trickle of Aussies prepared to risk their marriages, mortgages and lives to attempt the race. In 2006, Andy Caldecott from Keith, SA, became one of the 20 riders to have died in the race’s 37 years.
Moving the Dakar to South America and starting the rally a bit later in January has made it easier for Antipodeans to get to and one of those has been Christophe Barriere-Varju, whose efforts are chronicled in Dream Racer. Christophe has several things going for him: he is self-employed, he’s unmarried, he can read the French route directions used on the Dakar, he’s already attempted the rally four times and he has been a successful motocrosser in a former life on the Ivory Coast.
On the other side of Dream Racer is Simon Lee, a Sydney advertising agency executive who dreams of making a film but has a wife, second child on the way and no money to be traipsing across South America in a hire car with a camera crew. The problem is it’s 2010, sponsors don’t have any money and Christophe only scrapes together the $50,000 to enter after the organisers extend the deadline. “I have to get the money,” he says.
KTM sells the 690 Rally he’s lined up to someone else, he’s still carrying a “one pack” (instead of a six-pack) after breaking his arm the year before, both his training machines end up out of action, he can’t afford to pay a mechanic to go over to Buenos Aires … you get the picture.
“The guys a bonafide lunatic,” says Lee. “I just want to make a movie.”
There are certainly parallels here with Race to Dakar, featuring Charlie Boorman, but this is a ridgy-didge, dinky-die, shoestring Aussie effort, not some slick British co-production. Christophe is doing his own mechanical work and marking his own route sheets for the next day before grabbing a bite to eat and a few hours’ sleep in a tent. Simon does all his own filming, spends half the night recharging batteries and backing up footage and gets up before dawn to make sure Christophe’s helmet camera and microphone are working and film him setting off for the day.
Christophe injures his back on Day Six and tears a tricep on Day 11. He doesn’t go to the doctor because he fears he won’t be allowed to continue. You can feel the pain when he has to lift the heavy rally bike out of the sand every time he drops it. His video diary is of someone much older. This might be an adventure ride, but only for masochists.
Unlike Boorman, Christophe finishes, which certainly helps this award-winning film. “On a string. We did it on a string. You just hang on to it even if it starts falling apart. No matter what, you just hang on to it,” he says.
What we don’t hear is that he finished third in class and 56th overall or that he’s still hooked on Dakar four years later, but perhaps that’s as it should be.
Our rating: 4/5 stars
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