Working as a mechanic at the Dakar

The world’s most gruelling cross-country race, the Dakar, is an extreme test of the abilities of navigators, drivers and mechanics.

5 Dakar washing

Dealerfloor spoke to Toyota Gazoo Racing mechanic Paolo Gouveia to hear what goes down behind the scenes.

Gouveia builds and maintains rally and drift cars at PG Auto Services in New Germany. He joined Toyota Gazoo Rally champions Guy Botterill and navigator Simon Vacy-Lyle as team mechanic in 2020, after a few years making a name for himself as top drifter before also making rally drivers eat his dust at the Natal Rally Club.

Gouveia said the two-week Dakar is like being in the army, a lot of hurry up and wait, interspersed by bouts of frenetic activity.

Toyota Gazoo Racing mechanics, Jeof Moremi, Paolo Gouveia, Gert Smit and Morné Koen grab a quick bite at the team’s bivouac.

What is a day like for the mechanics at the Dakar?

The mechanics at all the camps typically worked late into the night to service bikes, cars or trucks, and then pack up the whole camp to move to the next bivouac, there to rinse and repeat the process for two weeks running.

You have proven yourself on track and rally, how do you rate your chances in a cross-country race like the Dakar?

To be successful at cross-country racing is simple. Get the best suspension possible. Then don’t get lost, keep the wheels pointing down and the roof pointing up. Avoid as many punctures as possible. Quickly fix what is bent or broken. The Dakar adds dunes to the mix, which do require a lot of experience to “read” the dune so that you can crest at speed without rolling down the other side. But given a budget for the right suspension and a good navigator, I think I’ll have a good chance.

Toyota Gazoo Racing team’s Henk Lategan and navigator Brett Cummings had to retire their Hilux during stage 5 after not keeping the wheels pointing down and the roof pointing up.

What needed fixing on the Hiluxes?

Just the normal checks, they are very good racing cars and only needed repairs when damaged. We changed the tyres every night, and put on new brake discs and pads every second day or so. But when the car gets bent after going head over tail as Henk Lategen and Brett Cummings did during stage 5, we can’t fix it. But the roll cage and body straps did their job and Henk only had a broken collarbone after a spectacular crash.

How would you describe the desert the Dakar raced through this year?

Spectacular, humbling and awe-inspiring.

What do you get when you put a bunch of “Saffers” in a desert with a few spare rims? A braai. Seen here are the team of mechanics who kept the wheels turning at Toyota Gazoo Racing.

What won't you miss from Dakar?

Sleeping in a tent.

Would you do the Dakar again?

Definitely!

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