Racer X: Well, Ludo, tell us about Dakar. It was the adventure of a lifetime, I'm guessing.
Ludo Boinnard: The Dakar is a myth. It's a thirty-one-year-old race and it's the toughest and most “mediatized” single motorsport event in the world. I have been racing world rallies for fun for the last eight years, scored a few top tens, but I never found the time nor the opportunity to do this particular event. It’s a big commitment. Funny thing, though, is that when I was 20 and in the Army, I was part of a military Enduro team that was entered in the Dakar, but a sponsor bailed out at the last minute, and being the newbie, my entry was removed... Man, I imagine the Dakar in the ‘80s and can't picture the adventure back then with no GPs, etc.
My buddy, Scot Harden, who did it a few years ago for Red Bull KTM, had warned me of how monstrous this event is. It is nothing you can imagine. I wish it was more televised here.
How did it all come together?
Back in 2006, I befriended David Casteu at the Las Pampas rally in South America. David was a factory rider for KTM. He has won a few events and has been runner up in the World Championship as well as the Dakar. He is a top gun and is often the wild card who can steal the show from Despres and Coma. When KTM decided to officially drop out of rally this past year, I helped David to hunt for rides and sponsors and put his own team together.
They actually moved the event. Where exactly did it take place this year?
The Dakar was raced for 28 years in Africa, and then two years ago, the event was canceled by the promoters the day before the start, as government intelligence agencies warned them of terrorist activities and possibly being targeted by such. North Africa is a rough region in all senses of the term and the last ten years have seen many issues arise as far as the geo-political concern goes. It is now obvious that ASO, the promoter, made the right choice, but at that time they were heavily criticized by emotional people. Last year, the rally was moved to Argentina and Chile, a place that is the end of the world, with deserts, dunes, and vast horizons where such a large event can take place. Honestly, look at most pictures today and you can't tell the difference between Africa & South America! Personally, I like it more down here. The terrain is more technical, we are closer to safety and civilization grid, and mainly we feel 100% welcome by the people who are fanatics about motorsports.
What team did you race for?
As I mentioned earlier, David Casteu wanted to build his own structure. With the help and commitment of his long-term personal sponsors ELF & Massa tire company, plus the late addition of Sherco motorcycles and Rockstar Energy, the team was put together in less than four months. The result is outstanding. David won the first stage out of nowhere. People were like, "He won on what? A Sherco? What is that?” (Laughs) It took a lot of testing and work from the whole 12-man team [9 crew and 3 riders] to make it happen. Today, Sherco 450cc enduro bikes are the talk of the bivouac, exactly the same as KTM was when it started to win in rallies many years ago.
I was lucky to have met David back then. We hit it off for a few years. These last six months, I helped him building his team and he helped me achieve this goal. Statistically, only five percent of first timers finish the race. Being in this professional structure really made a huge difference.
What was the scariest moment of the race for you?
For sure when David opened his leg with foot peg in a huge crash when leading the rally. The femoral artery was really close, but mostly, one morning, 6 km into the special, coming into a level-two danger, I saw a completely destroyed bike and a body lying there. I stopped and got quickly to the rider. From far, I had thought it was my teammate Pisano because of the white gear and I freaked out. But it was another buddy, Luca Manca from Italy. He was bleeding from the nose and mouth, breathing rapidly, unconscious, body all bent. Two people were helping him and it took me a minute to realize it was already a doctor and race director Etienne Lavigne working on him. Then I saw the chopper. Man I was so in shock that I had not noticed it. Luca crashed at almost 100 mph and he was in bad shape and in a coma. He is very lucky one of the choppers was there in minutes after another racer pulled the alarm. If not for this short response time, I am certain he would have never made it. It took me a few days to remove this image of Luca from my mind and mostly to stop thinking about what I would say to my kids and wife if it was me right there in a coma... Gnarly emotions every time I think about it.
How did you finish overall?
After playing with the top 30 for a couple days, I had some bike problems that sent me back to 90th and then it took me a few days to get to play in top 25. I ended up in 40th position overall, though. When you drop out of the top 30, it's no longer a race, it's an adventure... As they say, "Adventure starts when things stop happening as planned." (Laughs) So I was just happy to finish. If you’re 30th or 40th, in the end, what's the difference?
Will you race it again?
Honestly, I have only been back for a few days now and I really have no idea. After selling One Industries back in July ‘07, I wanted to take a two-year sabbatical, have a third kid with my wife, spend time with my family, and race more rallies. This is done. Now what is the next challenge? A new business? Why not? I get many offers for joint ventures and new projects. We'll see... I love a sentence from Anais Nin, who said, "The horizon expands or shrinks according to one's courage."
Who do you want to thank for helping you pull this off?
David for sure. He is a unique individual. The whole crew; Mika, our other teammate who helped me out of that sand bowl – I would probably still be there all dried up; Martin from Romaniac, who gave me gasoline when I ran out even though we were 39th and 40th – a class act; the sponsors, of course; and my wife for being so patient and understanding that off-road motorcycles and racing them is not just a passion, it's a virus that it's your blood.
If you have anything else to add, feel free.
You know, I keep getting emails and phone calls from friends all over the world telling me how proud they are and how great I did, etc.; I keep telling them that to me the real heroes in this Dakar are the guys who show up with no mechanics, sign up in the ELF trophy (ELF transports – for free – your canteen from stage to stage). Those guys, when they are done at the end of the day, they still have tires and oil to change, a bike to maintain, and still need enough time to take care of themselves and sleep. Those are the iron men of the Dakar and they were always camped next to us at every bivouac. And while my factory mechanics were prepping my bike, I would go in my tent to sleep and I could watch those privateers work into the night, knowing they would only get four, three, or maybe two hours of sleep before we would get up at 3 a.m. Those are my heroes. I would have never been able to do what those guys did.