Friday, January 14, 2011

Oh no, Casteu

Perhaps some stand aghast that I could put out a wrap up for stage 10 without a mention of French rally stalwart, David Casteu. Such are the troubles afflicting Casteu that I felt he needed, no, deserved a place all his own. His desire to persevere can certainly be understood in the context of the Dakar as for most, to finish is to be victorious.

To a rider of Casteu’s caliber, experience, and ability, anything less than a victory must be a failure. The Frenchman’s speed and talent puts him in the same eldritch category occupied by only two other competitors, fellow Francophone, Cyril Despres, and Spanish sensation, Marc Coma. Their otherworldly performances put them on a distinct level, apart from their immensely talented competition. Perhaps the only other contemporary rider approaching that exclusive club is Chaleco Lopez. Where others possess similar speeds, some others the navigational prowess, it is only these four super humans who are able to turn in consistent, quick stage after stage results with precious few mistakes.

After a promising start on the beautiful little 450 Sherco Rally Replica, outright victory or even hopes for a top five finish were dashed on stage 5 with a transmission failure and a 113th place stage finish. Up until that point, Casteu was solidly moving in the right direction up the leader board…Stage 1, 12th, Stage 2, 8th, Stage 3, 8th, Stage 4, 7th. With each stage, David was increasing his chances to equal or better his 2007 finish of 2nd place overall. Casteu had a similar promising start in the 2010 Dakar, but unfortunately, it was the dreaded stage 5, and a viscous crash that ended his hopes. With significant injuries, quite frankly, David was lucky to be able to carry on, get back to health, and take the 450cc class World Championship in the FIM Cross Country series for Sherco and we are all luckier for it as Casteu is a joy to watch.

Perhaps what says more about the man is his determination to complete the Dakar. With the ambiguity of this year’s 3 engine rule, Casteu has been open about taking his 4th and 5th engines and the 40 and 50 minute penalties associated with each. Quite frankly, I’ve lost count and think he may be on his sixth. Casteu is running a new generation transmission this year and unfortunately, his Dakar has become a heartbreaking exercise in research and development as this new transmission has exposed itself as the weak link in the chain. In a rally such as the Dakar, a weak link, any weak link will quickly make itself apparent, usually at the worst of times.

Casteu’s team put in a fresh engine on the rest day only to be rewarded with a locked up transmission shortly into the next day’s stage. He stopped, eventually got the bike into fourth gear, and carried on through the rest of the stage in a single gear. Stage 8 and 9 were much, much better for Casteu and perhaps it seemed the team had wrangled hold of their demons, through an outstanding 3rd place finish on stage 9. After reaching the bivouac after the difficult loop around Copiapo, the decision was made to take the fourth engine and incur the 40 minute penalty.

Near the breaking point himself, Casteu once again ground to a halt on the huge liaison from Copiapo to Fiambala on the way to the start of special stage 10. Reports suggest that somehow, Casteu was able to take the stage start and then head back to Fiambala to begin the process of changing to now his 5th engine. At this point, many other top riders may have decided to pack it in. Due to an illness, fellow Sherco rider, Tina Meier did that morning. A few days earlier, Casteu’s team mate Laurent Lazard was shown on the withdrawal list. The only Sherco’s left in the rally are Casteu’s temperamental mount and that of Belgian rider, Simon Tampaxis.

Casteu was hours behind the leaders for stage 10, but he went anyway. After leaving the Copiapo bivouac at his scheduled 4:24am departure time, by the time David completed the stage and reached the bivouac at Chilecito, it was 2:39am the following morning. Yes, that’s right, 22 hours and 15 minutes, most of which was spent in the saddle. Spare a thought for what the timing sheets don’t show.

Sure David Casteu has been let down by numerous mechanical woes, but don’t blame Sherco for this. Instead congratulate them and Casteu for taking the chance on such a huge undertaking for such a small outfit. With Sherco’s 3000 unit yearly output, barely 5% the output of rally leaders KTM, let alone what comes out of the factories of Honda or Yamaha, we say a huge well done to the small company. Let this undertaking inspire all and hopefully let that inspiration translate into sales which will only help further the rally participation that we know and love.

Bravo Sherco for taking on the daunting climes of the Dakar rally. Bravo David Casteu for taking the change and jumping, head first into a promising but unproven project when more known equipment abounds. Last but not least, Bravo to David and his team for displaying what makes the Dakar and indeed the rally world what it is, the heart and soul of racers and teams whose desire is to compete and be there at the end regardless of what the time sheets say.

1 comment:

  1. Great article on one of the most likeable guys on the rally circuit. 2nd in the 2007 Dakar, Winner of the 2008 Central Europe Rally after the Dakar was cancelled and reigning 450 world champion, David had now 3 horrible Dakars in succession. 2009 he was victim of the bad mousse/tire combinations and lost every chance for a top spot in the first 2 stages, then his injury last year and now the gearbox drama. He was one of my top picks for a win this year, let's hope he comes back stronger in 2012!