The day’s drama started when, despite promises from the hotel management that breakfast would be served at 5am, none appeared. Seemingly no-one had told the kitchen, but fortunately we had planned for such eventualities and headed back to our room for an impromptu meal.
After reaching the Maghwat parc ferme and tracking down Sheila’s driver, we headed for the nearest petrol station to fill the race car before heading to the start, some 60km away. Our interpretation of the road book was that there would be firm bumpy tracks, so we only let the tyres down to 18/20psi. But within the first kilometer of the 300km stage it was clear that we had badly underestimated the terrain, and had to waste valuable time deflating to 15psi.
Then we discovered that we had no brakes, which came as a surprise as they’d worked fine on the prologue. Then, after about 50km, the fuel pump packed up, and after a few nervous minutes diagnosing the problem, we switched to the reserve pump and carried on.
But despite this, we managed to overtake quite a few vehicles both moving and broken down, and when we reached service at 200km we felt reasonably pleased with our progress. Sadly one of the cars we passed was Dave Mabbs’ FJ, out with a blown engine at the 150km point. At service we topped up with brake fluid, which promptly fell out of the broken flexible hose to the front right wheel – looks like we twatted a rock on the prologue and broke the union at the diff end. It being reinforced hose, we had no quick fix to hand and only a 20min service time, so we grabbed a bite to eat and carried on.
The terrain is quite different from Liwa, with more vegetation and generally firmer sand, but no huge desert dunes to speak of. The Patrol was running well, and Lee was doing a sterling job on the navigation, not greatly helped by a roadbook which contradicted the GPS data at every turn! At his instigation, we took several hors-piste detours off the track, enabling us to hit every one of the 128 waypoints. So in the final third of the stage, now with a lighter fuel load, we turned up the wick a bit and went for it. We still got caught by Hamad Al Thani from Qatar, running a much quicker T1 Patrol, but made a fast run through to the finish.
After the road liaison and refuel, we had only 3 hours to fix the car before it went into parc ferme again. Sheila and Hamad went in search of parts while I stripped out the damaged pipe, enabling Lee to take it as a sample. By the time they arrived it was late, dark and cold, and we only just managed to finish the repair, bleed the brakes and refit the wheel in time.
By counting the vehicles we passed (and were passed by) we guessed that we might be around 13th. However, it turns out that we are lying 10th overall, and 2nd in T2 class by a mere 6 minutes – less than the time we spent deflating the tyres! Team Saluki are 2nd overall, behind Yazeed Al Rajhi in a South African-built Nissan Navara, and seem to have finally laid their engine demons to rest.
Tomorrow we have it all to play for – can we make up six minutes on Ali Al Shawi’s brand new T2 Patrol? Will there be breakfast? Will we have brakes? Will our engine rebel against the relentless thrashing I’ve been giving it? By this time tomorrow, dear readers, these and many other questions will be answered.