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Libya Desert Challenge: First pics and reports from Libyan Desert

Today we received the firts pictures and stories from the 3rd German Amateur Rally "Libya Desert Challenge", in which Germany´s favourite ex-Mitsubishi Dakar woman work driver Andrea Mayer is testing a new FIA Buggy from the German "KOS Racing" off-road manufacturers and some Italian guys are testing two "Fiat Panda 4x4 Rally". Herewith the reports:

Day 1 Douz - Chenini S.S.1

In the easy dune-section of the first half of the stage the KOS Kumho-Buggy gave a great performance. The second half was dominated by curvy, rough tracks. Both, the machinery and the drivers, had their first test, with several having their first (unintentional) taste of riding or driving through dunes!

Amongst the motorcyclists, Englishman Tom Beckett threw caution to the wind and gave his brand new KTM 450EXC a damn good thrashing. Unfortunately it bit him back when he tried to change direction at high speed and he came a serious cropper, but was nevertheless able to remount and continue to a third place finish behind Karim Hussein and stage winner Carlo Lumia. (Tom went out of the rally last year half way through with a knee injury he was supposed to be taking it steady this year, but once the clock started tick-ing the red mist took over!).

Lumia was faster than all the cars except Andrea Mayer’s buggy while the 4x4 Fiat Pandas showed their robust construction on one of the shortest, but toughest special stages. With equal amounts of hard work and team spirit they managed to repair their prototype machines so that they were ready for the next day’s stage. In fact there was plenty of hard work for all the competitors and their assistance teams at the first bivouac out in the Tunisian desert which was only a few kilometres from the Libyan border near Dhehiba/Wazan/Nalut.

Day 2 Chenini-Ghadames Liaison

On this day we had a little magic happen: As the first Rally or group ever to cross the border at Nalut the LDC passed through smoothly having previously put in a tremendous amount of preparation with the paperwork. To save time for the great dunes, the most southern possible checkpoint crossing was opened for the rallye by Aania Tours, the Libyan partners. The authorities on both sides of the border were friendly but a little nervous. Within two hours we had passed through all the Libyan formalities and we then had a police escort out of the border area for the next 50 km as far as Nalut. From there the bikes were loaded onto the sweeper truck to save the drivers from the hardship and boredom of riding 300 kms of tarmac liaison down to the Saharan city of Ghadames. That night the temperature fell to -5 Degrees Celsius (bloody freezing!).

Day 3 Ghadames - Desert Bivouac Aania S.S.2

Today's stage started after a short night due to the one hour time difference between Tunisia and Libya. It started with some really rough going across the Hamada, the flat, huge area north of the Idan Ubari; a lunar landscape of black rocks followed by a 'Sea of Sand'.

Italian Carlo Lumia (DRZ400) was once again the quickest of the bikes, followed by Tom Beckett in second, (despite his painful shoulder injury) ahead of Werner Pfeuffer (KTM). All three of them were considerably quicker than the fastest car.

Team 105 Deibel/Steiberger (Suzuki Jimny) faded out after only 8 kilometres due to a suspension problem. Afterwards, the KOS Kumho-Buggy of Team 110 (Andrea Mayer/Thomas Schulte) briefly caught fire. Due to the mandatory safety equipment the fire was out in seconds inside rearmounted engine bay. An oilpipe had come apart and the hot engine oil caught fire on the hot exhaust. This caused the team to arrive at the finish in last place after 11 hours, but still in the rally. Winner of the day was the Team 102 Poljanec/Robic (Slowenia) in a Jeep Wrangler 4.0, second was Team 101 Krivic/Goriup (Slowenia) on Puch 290G, followed directly by Team 107 Koepp/Jahnke (Mercedes G, Germany). The organization managed the special stage on time and also the fuel logistics by Aania Tours worked 100%.

Day 4 Desert Bivouac Aania - Camp Al Awynat S.S.3

Due to the heavy rainfall over the past few days, the previously extremely tough dune section was made much easier due to the firmer sand. However, some of the "chotts" (salt lakes) which are usually bone dry actually filled with water and turned into nasty traps for some of the competitors. Also, the stony tracks which followed were much more difficult than last year and took its toll on the riders and drivers. Everyone was exhausted by the time they reached the Alfaw campsite in the city of Al Awynat, (literally, the springs).

Once again, Carlo Lumia’s Suzuki headed the bikes, followed by Tom Beckett (UK) and Werner Pfeuffer (Germany) on KTMs. Beckett’s damaged shoulder did not seem to be slowing him down much despite the fact that an X-ray had revealed that his first day crash had resulted in a fractured shoulder blade and tearing all the accompanying ligaments. He was determined to continue racing because the mental torture he would have suffered sitting in a support vehicle would have been worse than the pain from his injuries! Four wheel winner of the day was Team 110 Andrea Mayer/Thomas Schulte (KOS Kumho Buggy, Germany) with a half hour advantage on Team 107 Koepp/Jahnke (Mercedes G, Germany) but still an hour and a half behind Lumia’s flying DRZ 400.

Day 5 Camp Al Awynat - Camp Al Awynat S.S.4

The first 'Marble Madness' loop of 129kms through the dunes was linked to the second 137km loop in the Akakus mountains by a one hour liaison passing back through Al Awynat. Carlo Lumia increased his bike class lead with yet another stage win, followed by Werner Pfeuffer and Karim Hussein (UK, Honda XR 650). However, for the first time in the rally so far, Carlo was beaten by a four wheeler, which was of course the KOS buggy driven by Dakar bike and car veteran Andrea Mayer, just over a minute faster. She was followed at a more sedate pace by the Slovenian Puch G of Team 101 and the Mercedes G of Team 107.

In the afternoon the organisers had their own special test: To find Paul 'Elvis' Howard (UK). Elvis crashed his KTM 525 MXC on rocky going in SS5, hurting his back and destroying his navigation equipment. He nevertheless got back on his bike and tried to retrace his steps back to the start but unfortunately went miles off track, ending up some 30kms away from the route. Thanks to the satellite Iridium phone (which all competitors carry) he was able to contact the organisers but the information he gave them about his whereabouts was wildly inaccurate. However, they eventually managed to 'sniff him out' by following his tracks in the sand and bring him safely back to camp in time for dinner (with the doctor riding his bike!). He was very sore, but determined to race again after Sunday's scheduled rest day.

Unfortunately, due to an unavoidable glitch, the bike results for SS5 could only be calculated as far as the first checkpoint but things were sorted out in time for the whole of the stage to count for the cars. Bike class leader Carlo Lumia’s luck ran out when a rock holed his Suzuki’s clutch cover but he was eventually able to repair the damage on the piste using some 'chemical metal' kindly lent by fellow biker Karim Hussein. Lumia nevertheless suffered a two hour delay and a 6 hour penalty, ending his chances of winning the rallye. Carlo's misfortune meant that Werner Pfeuffer (KTM 525 MXC) took the stage win along with the overall lead ahead of Tom Beckett. Ger-man Amazon Ilka Evers-Schäffer, riding a well-used KTM 520 got her first stage podium.

Amongst the four wheelers, the Italian Team 106 of Giovanni and Lorenzo took their first stage win in their Mitsubishi L200 pick-up ahead of Team 111’s Nissan Terrano (Kruger/Muhmel, Germany) and Team 101’s Puch G (Slowenia).

Day 6 camp Al Awynat - Camp Africa S.S.5

Day 6 started with a 130kms liaison drive down the main road east from Al Awynat after which the bikes refuelled before starting SS6. The day started with fast and flat off road piste followed by spectacular sand riding with high dune crossings interspersed with long fast sand valleys. The bikes of Pfeuffer, Beckett and Ilka Evers Schaefer (Germany) caught up with each other before the dunes and rode together for most of the stage. Karim Hussein caught and passed them using the extra speed and power of his XR 650 Honda to good effect in the flat fast sand valleys to take his first stage win ahead of Ilka Evers and Tom Beckett.

Fast Italian Carlo Lumia started the stage some two hours late after destroying his motocross rear tyre on the tarmac in the liaison stage. Journalist Paul Blezard rode alone but was making good progress until 3kms from the finish when, due to misunderstanding instructions in the drivers’ briefing, was un-able to find the stage finish and so snatched disaster from the jaws of success....

Andrea Mayer’s buggy was once again quicker than all the bikes and fastest four-wheeler by forty minutes ahead of the Nissan Terrano of Kruger/Muhmel (111) and the Puch G of Team 101. As the day warmed up to be the hottest of the event so far, the competitors were glad of the relatively early finish which enabled them to relax and bask in the sun in the salubrious sur-roundings of Camp Africa after a short liaison down the main tarmac road from in Awbari and Tikerkiba.

Sunday was the official rest day of the 2. Libya Desert Challenge allowing everyone to recharge their batteries (both human and electrical) and to service their machines. Several competitors took the opportunity to visit the lakes at Mandara which they will also be passing at a faster pace when the racing resumes on Monday.

With three days of racing remaining, German Werner Pfeuffer is leading the motorcycle class by just five minutes ahead of the injured Tom Beckett while Karim Hussein is third overall.

In the automobile class the Mercedes G of Koepp/Jahnke has a more comfortable fifty five minute cushion ahead of the Puch G290 diesel of Krivic/Goriup who in turn are nearly an hour ahead of the Nissan Terrano of Kruger/Muhmel. The KOS Kumho buggy of Andrea Mayer and Tom Schulte is chasing hard in 4th place overall but is still currently two hours off a podium finish.

2006/02/13 I 14:15 CET I Editor: P. Blezard, T. Beckett and T. Holzknecht

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