For what it cost and for the months of hard work it took these guys to get here I thought the rest of the world might have showed a little more interest. A few women are proudly kissing their men as they climb out of their machines, support crews are grabbing the obligatory pyramid selfies, and the Red Bull PR girls are handing out complimentary ice-cold cans.
This month I find myself standing behind the pyramids watching cars, bikes, quads, and trucks complete the final day of the Pharaons Rally – one of nine races in the World Cup Cross Country Rally, the others being across the Middle East, Europe, and Russia. Next stop for these guys will be Italy. I say ‘guys’ in the generic sense as there are also a few women competing.
I’d like to paint a picture of Formula One style opulence, excess, and glamour but the reality is rather more low-key. There are perhaps just 100 people here; drivers, co-drivers, support teams, and a motley selection of press. One press team felt the need to erect a satellite transmitter right there to get their news out instantly, whilst most managed to contain their story until a couple of hours later when they could use the hotel’s Wi-Fi.
I get chatting to Miguel, a mechanic from Portugal who is with the MINI works team (meaning that the team is run and sponsored by BMW MINI themselves). They arrived here with four cars, though are now down to three as one rolled the previous day after hitting a rock. What I find most impressive is the level of support that MINI provides the team. No fewer than four support trucks, three of which are German-built six-wheel drive expedition trucks, each one costing, along with the spare parts inside, around 600,000 Euros each. The fans in attendance may only number a dozen at the most, but that doesn’t stop budgets from being the size of telephone numbers. To enter costs around 50,000LE, and remember this was one of nine races in the series, then you need a crew, and the small matter of building and developing a car in the first place.
An inflatable arch has been erected framing the winners and the pyramids behind. I jostle with other reporters to get a good spot. First up for their moment of glory is the motorcycle class. The riders position themselves, there’s a flurry of camera shutters and a small cheer from fellow competitors then, dripping with sweat, they wheel the bikes to the side and make way for the next category. There’s clearly quite a few categories, so, losing interest I slip away to look at the parked cars again.
Amusingly, one car is sponsored by ‘Fa – Men Extreme’. I make a comment to a bystander about a rally car sponsored by a bar of soap, and quite how extreme can a shampoo be? He is quick to defend the brand pointing out that Fa produce deodorant too! Sensing I’ve hit a nerve I chat some more. It soon transpires that this is Otto, a Hungarian gentleman who is the marketing manager for Henkel, the parent company of Fa whose product lines include Loctite, disinfectants, ‘Combat’ bug spray, and various other tough ‘manly products’. I clearly haven’t offended him too much as he allows me to sit in the car and ask various technical questions about suspension geometry and torque curves which he is happy to answer. He has been assigned to run the team as part of his role promoting their product line – not a bad project if you like this kind of thing.
Some may tell you this is all about developing the cars. You know, what a MINI goes through out here makes your neighbour’s Cooper a better car. I don’t really buy that line since the MINIs I’m looking at here have virtually no common parts to the cars I saw when I worked in the MINI factory in Oxford. The panels are replaced with fiberglass or carbon fibre, the engines are swapped for much bigger units, the gearboxes are sequential racing ʼboxes, most of the glass is now plastic, the interior is completely stripped out, the dashboard has gone, the wiring loom removed, and the suspension, tyres, brakes, and fuel tank are all replaced. I ask Otto what has been left standard on his team’s Opel Moka. He points to the badge on the front.
It’s only 2pm, but for me the day is drawing to a close. My jet-set journalist lifestyle is a busy one and I need to return home to take my kids to the doctor. As I start making my way back towards the pyramids there’s another small cheer from the inflatable arch. Another three drivers have their moment of glory. Another three dreams realised. Until the next race.
Benjamin James has a background in automotive engineering, a keen interest in two- and four-wheel motoring, and an unrequited passion for overlanding.
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