The Dakar Rally is widely recognised as the most punishing off-road event in the world. For the past six years it has been held across the varied terrain of South America on a 9,000km course over 15 days. The stress of completing the distances in the time allowed is coupled with the pressure for support crews to get the cars ready for the next leg in difficult conditions and tight time scales.
In 2012, Race2Recovery had the honour of receiving the first grant from the Endeavour Fund. They entered a team into the Dakar Rally, drawn from British and US Veterans, wounded and able-bodied and bolstered by an experienced support crew. Race2Recovery entered four Wild Cat vehicles into the rally.
In two weeks of racing across some of the toughest driving terrain on the planet, three of the vehicles were out of the race. Some vehicles weren’t quick enough over the difficult course, some were hampered by mechanical problems and one crashed out of the race. However, on 19th January 2013, Driver Major Matt O’Hare and his co-Driver Corporal Phillip Gillespie crossed the line in Santiago, Chile and into the record books as the first ever disability team to complete the Dakar Rally.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who followed the team’s progress throughout the rally sent this message to the team:
“Catherine and I have heard the wonderful news about your success today – many, many congratulations. We know it was not easy, but you have today become true record holders as the first ever disability team to complete what is one of the world’s toughest challenges. What you have achieved was a triumph of perseverance and teamwork, and you have shown the world what true valour looks like. We hope you get some rest now, and, please, no driving like that on our roads when you’re back!”
Corporal Phillip Gillespie, 24, from Ballymena, Northern Ireland, who lost a leg as a result of injuries sustained in Afghanistan, said:
“We have found out first-hand why they call the Dakar Rally the hardest race in the world. It has pushed every single one us to our limits and beyond. To be able to stand here at the finish line and say we achieved what we set out to achieve, to become the first ever disability team to complete the Dakar Rally, feels magical. Our team motto is ‘beyond injury – achieving the extraordinary’ and we’ve done just that. I hope that we’ve been able to inspire people who may be facing difficulties through injury or illness. The support we’ve received from everyone – our sponsors, supporters, families, friends, the military and complete strangers – has been amazing and is testament to the ability and dedication of this team.”
The team raised £300,000 for the Help For Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House and their landmark adventure was captured on film and broadcasted on ITV4. The Race2Recovery team is still in operation and is set to enter a new set of drivers into the 2014 Rally.