London, January 18, 2016
MINI UK brand ambassador Harry Hunt has become the fastest British driver to make his debut on the Dakar since rally legend Colin McRae, more than 10 years ago.
Harry regularly set stage times in the top 10, eventually finishing 10th overall in his distinctive Union flag-liveried MINI ALL4 Racing after 13 stages and 10,000 kilometres through Argentina and Bolivia.
He was the third-fastest rookie on the event – behind former WRC vice-champion Mikko Hirvonen and nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb – and also the third highest-placed of the 12 MINIs that took the start.
Harry set two eighth-fastest stage times in particular, ahead of many established stars, and he was also on course for a seventh-fastest time on one of the most complex stages of the event, before a puncture slowed him down.
It was an astonishing debut, made all the more remarkable by the fact that this was the wettest Dakar in recent history, with an astonishing range of temperatures from 47 degrees centigrade to nearly freezing. The notorious Fiambala sand dune stages in the second week were also described by event winner, Stéphane Peterhansel, as “some of the most difficult I have ever seen.”
These stages caught out some of the most notable stars of the event including a long list of former winners, who either got stuck or damaged their cars in the rocks and sand. But it was where Harry put in his best performances. The Englishman, aged just 27 and on his first Dakar, had no real issues – guided through the hazards by his experienced co-driver Andy Schulz from Germany.
Throughout his remarkable Dakar debut, Harry battled mud, rocks, gravel, and sand, at altitudes that peaked at 4750 metres: not far off the height of Everest base camp. At these altitudes, many drivers relied on oxygen between the stages and the cars lost in excess of 20% of their power.
The only delays that Harry encountered on the rally consisted of punctures, which driver and co-driver can change in less than three minutes, a minor power steering failure on the penultimate day of the two-week event, and a short pause on one stage when Harry and Andy stopped to help push a team mate’s car that had rolled back onto its wheels: typical of the spirit of the Dakar, where comradeship and sportsmanship is just as important as the final result.
“It’s been the most amazing and intense two weeks of my life,” said Harry at the finish in Rosario, northwest of Buenos Aires in Argentina on Saturday. “To not only have finished the Dakar – which would be a massive achievement in itself – but to have finished it in the top 10 is beyond anything I would have expected before coming here. I did a huge amount of physical training before getting to the Dakar, which paid off, as I didn’t suffer too much in terms of fatigue and altitude. This was still the hardest thing I have ever done but an incredible experience: I’d do it all again tomorrow.”
Harry was driving a 3.0-litre, twin-turbodiesel MINI ALL4 Racing, which has a similar look to the road-going Mini Countryman he drives back home in London – a stark contrast to the endless pampas of Argentina – but is specially built to cope with the rigours of desert racing.
With sophisticated suspension that allows extensive travel, an enormous fuel tank that contains more than 350 litres, and four-wheel drive, the car is perfectly equipped for the battle with the elements that is Dakar: a duel against nature that has attracted some of the very top names in motorsport, with the last British driver to take up the challenge in a factory-backed car being the great Colin McRae, in 2004 and 2005.
“I love the whole adventure and heritage of the Dakar: it’s amazing that Colin, who was one of my heroes, was part of it too,” said Harry. “It’s such an enormous challenge: one of the last real epic motorsport events left on the planet. We had a plan that we stuck to and that got us the result we dreamed of, without any real problems along the way. I’ve learned a lot and there are many ways we can improve for the future, but I’m more than happy with this first time out here. A huge thanks to my co-driver Andy, whose wisdom and experience was invaluable, and to MINI UK for having faith in me. We’ll be back next year and we’re going to try and do even better.”