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Picco: “It's still called the Dakar, but everything has changed”

Digital roadbooks, a 5-star bivouac and a new speed limit set at 160 km/h: this is what the 29th Dakar is like for the 67-year-old from Vicenza, who is tackling the challenge with the Fantic team and its Racing Coordinator, Milena Koerner

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Today's prologue officially got the 45th edition of the Dakar underway. Once again it will see lining up at the start the rustproof Franco Picco, who spoke to us in our "Bar Sport" together with the Fantic Racing Coordinator, Milena Koerner. It’s the first experience in the desert for the German-born manager and the 29th participation of the 67-year-old from Vicenza in the most famous Rally Raid in the world. "For me it's nice to meet up with so many friends, but they all ask me: 'what are you doing here at your age?' I even had it written on my bike: #67. It's not a random number and it changes every year... It's a matter of working a lot more with your head and taking advantage of what you know" commented Picco, who positively welcomed the introduction of a new speed limit in the 2023 Dakar.

“They’ve set the limit at 160 km/h, and, with this display, the rider and the organization are warned by a sound signal when this speed is reached. They are modifications for safety, to try to limit accidents and could also be a good opportunity to try to level out the differences between the official bikes and the standard or production ones - the rider from Veneto, who lines up at the start with the Fantic XEF Rally 450, explained to us - There was already a switch from twins to singles limited to 450 cc, but the latest 450s go as fast as the twins of 10-20 years ago, so it was pointless. Years ago, it was thought that by limiting the engine capacity to 450 cc we had moved towards safety, however last year I seemed to have heard that some official bikes even reached 180 km/h. An accident has never happened at that speed. Even the fatal ones have occurred at the classic average speeds between 100 and 130 km/h, where you find potholes or something unexpected. However, it is still better to try to put a limit on these things as well”.

Many changes have been made over the years to try to make the legendary desert marathon, which has now been run entirely in Saudi Arabia for four editions, safer. Quite different routes from those of the past, with navigation assisted by digital roadbooks.

“In the old Dakar we always raced on tracks where you could see where you were by looking at a map of North Africa. Now, however, it is not allowed to use any cartography and it is also a bit strange that there are e-books - commented Picco - The organization goes in search of difficult terrain and makes you pass through it having to use a GPS that is supplied with locked systems, to allow you to see only what is written in the roadbook. If you get lost, you must go in search and in case you are lost, you can ask for it to be unlocked and the map will open for you. Or there is even a satellite phone with which you can call the organization, or it is the organization itself that calls you, if it sees that you stop and you are off course, because they keep an eye on you and call you to find out what happened”.

A completely different world compared to the way the competition was once tackled: “The system is completely different and it's certainly more difficult - admitted Franco - Now they make you do many areas off the track, the famous 'camel grass' or in any case dunes, where there are no tracks, and you go in search of waypoints. Last year, on a stage of 400-500 kilometres, you had to find a hundred waypoints and if you don't catch them or pass close to them - at 90 or 100 metres, they are all different from each other - at the end of the race the organization realizes it and there are penalties. For this reason, there is the ranking, which is then confirmed in view of the penalties, which may be due to speed, missing waypoints or start or transfer time. It's quite different from before... Let's say that the Dakar is just the name, everything else has changed".

Milena, who had prepared for a much tougher away trip than has emerged so far, also noticed this: "I expected a much more spartan organization, instead I found a 5-star bivouac, with beach volleyball courts, petanque and table tennis. There is a 900-seat catering tent, where they cook virtually for 24 hours – she said - They are working a lot on safety, because, in addition to the direct line with the organization Franco mentioned, they also told me that there are 12 helicopters, to be able to recover someone, and three planes that ensure the functioning of radio communications". "This stems from the decision to keep us out so as not to run any risks - added Picco - They have set up a bivouac, called 'Sea Camp', 80 km from Yanbuʿ, in the desert or, by the Red Sea. And having to stay here for 4-5 days, they have also put in some entertainment, such as a mini supermarket, laundry, games room, or hairdresser".


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