Sakaka (Saudi Arabia) (AFP)
Mike Horn has made a name for himself walking to some of the most remote places in the world, but as the Dakar picks up on Sunday he’s in a diesel car, trying to navigate the Saudi desert in an effort to “conserve the planet “.
Horn, a 54-year-old South African based in Switzerland, is famous for her exploits of circling the equator without using motorized transport and walking to the North Pole in the winter without dogs or motor vehicles.
He is taking part in his second Dakar, as the navigator of veteran French Cyril Despres, in a traditional diesel car with the aim of making these cars obsolete.
In addition to the competition, the car is designed to collect data as part of a project named Gen-Z which aims to introduce a competitive hydrogen car into the 2023 rally.
The car has been fitted with sensors by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), which plans to manufacture the prototype which will run with an electric motor powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.
“There is a real purpose behind it all, and it is essential,” said Despres, 46, who is on his 21st Dakar and has won the motorcycle category five times. “It’s new to me. ”
Horn first raced last year, when he and Despres lasted three stages. The explorer was heavily criticized for taking part in a rally with a notorious carbon footprint.
“There are three things that made me come back”, he said: “First the human adventure, then the competition, I like to win and to reach the end of my expeditions and of course to collect data for research and for future generations. ”
“I can play a big role in changing the way we participate in motorsport,” Horn said. “Preserving the planet so that we can leave a future for the young generation is one of my life missions. ”
After a rest day on Saturday, the rally resumes Sunday with the seventh stage of 737 kilometers and the French Stéphane Peterhansel leading the car category.
– «Plus facile and African» –
With 55 cars still in circulation and six of the 12 stages to go, Horn and Despres are 17th in their 340 horsepower Peugeot, 3 hours 42 minutes and 59 seconds behind Peterhansel.
Despres said it was important to compete.
“If we drive at 50% of the speed required to be with the best, the CEA will not be able to manufacture a fuel cell with the power necessary to win. We need to redouble our efforts to make this data real, ”he said.
At the moment, their biggest problem is navigation.
“Last year we were only able to do three stages,” said Horn.
“I couldn’t learn to navigate with the roadbook in just three steps. Moreover, I have to do it in French, it would be easier for me to do it in Afrikaans. ”
He said navigating a rally field was different from traversing remote areas on foot alone.
“When you walk where no one has walked before, it’s different than when you have 40 cars in front of you,” he says. “I have to be able to lift my eyes from the roadbook to look outside, find the sun or a line of dunes to find my way. ”
They are supported in Saudi Arabia by Matthieu Parent of Vaison Sport, a French company specializing in the construction of racing car prototypes.
“We have to create a new vehicle around the fuel cell,” Parent said.
“Making a vehicle that only emits water vapor and capable of winning the Dakar in 2023 is difficult, but it is possible. ”
© 2021 AFP