Banjul Express pair "about to cross Sahara"
FAMILY and friends of intrepid banger drivers Les Hughes and Stuart Franks will be keeping their fingers crossed this weekend.
Banjul Express, the ageing Ford Fiesta competing in the banger challenge to The Gambia, is likely to be out of mobile phone contact for three days.
The latest message from Les and Stuart wsas that they were about to cross the Sahara Desert and would be out of contct.
Sidley driver Les and his cousin Stuart have been keeping family and supporters in touch with progress by text to the organisers' www.plymouth-dakar.co.uk website.
The pair were given a big family send-off from Glovers Lane, when they set off on the 3,800-mile venture on Boxing Day morning.
By last Tuesday, Les and Stuart were reporting that the J-registered 1.3-litre Fiesta was running well and they were travelling through Morocco.
The little car started the venture with 54,000 miles on the clock and a rack with rope, spare wheel, spotlights and fuel can on the roof.
Every team car has a name.
Theirs is the optimistic Banjul Express. Other exotic offerings include Faith Hope And Charity and Eighties Dream Machine '“ who had problems with a washed-out bridge on the way to Marrakesh.
Checks on Google Earth flesh-out the details of previously unheard-of stopping-off points such as Chefchaouen and Moulay-Brousselham for Les and Stuart's family.
From the air, the road is starting to look both formidable and remote.
In a text to the website last Tuesday referring to other teams, Les and Stuart reported: "Made it into Morocco. Drove to Chefchaouen for lunch with Winginit and Africa Sox."
In a typically laconic footnote, Les and Stuart noted: "Now in Moulay-Brousselham. Stopped by police for a chat..."
By Sunday evening Les and Stuart had sent a text reading: "We have reached a campsite just outside Ayoune. JAVE Adventure Team 1, Kurlanders Team and The Dukes Of Kurland here too."
The team spent two nights in Agadir in Morocco before moving on but the next message indicated the kind of problems some teams are having. By then Banjul Express was in company with Jave Adventure Team, Dukes of Kurland, Cous Cous, Wininit, Team Tight, The Muffin Men, Kurlanders Team and Africa Shox.
"Left Dakla at 6.30 but returned to Dakla because Land Rover was having problems. Will try again tomorrow."
Wednesday's more confident message was: "Leaving Dakla tomorrow and heading to Mauritania."
No wonder the police were interested to find out what the eccentric Brits were doing in their country.
The concept of a "banger challenge" was created by Julian Nowill in 2002 to take the mickey out of the real Paris-Dakar Rally.
His aim was to show that ordinary people on a limited budget could go where the "big boys" and their expensive team operations go.
The rules he devised pare the costs to the minimum and guarantee not only that that the participants have fun out of the challenge but raise money for charity.
No more than 100 can be spent on buying a left-hand drive car for the challenge and no more than 15 on its preparation.
Les and Stuart are raising sponsorship to support no. 2262 (Bexhill) Squadron, Air Training Corps here.
Like all the other cars, the Fiesta will be auctioned at its destination through the local Rotary Club to raise money for local good causes.
In addition to the original Plymouth-Dakar challenge and Banjul challenge in which Les and Stuart are taking part, there is a Silk Road Challenge, a Morocco Off-road Challenge and even a Timbuctu Challenge.
Les and Stuart are part of this year's Group 8 challenge to get from Britain to The Gambia.
Once on their way, participants like Les and Stuart are offered no formal assistance by the challenge organisers.
Apart from the mutual aid offered by fellow participants, they are on their own.