Isidre Esteve: “It was spectacular, they gave their all for us”

En acción: Isidre Esteve 2017 Dakar

Ten years after suffering an accident in a rally in Almeria that resulted in a T7 spinal cord injury, Isidre Esteve can now say that he’s back in competition. The pilot from Oliana (Lleida) made a comeback at Dakar 2017, with the aim of finishing the race. However, thanks to the outstanding performance of the Repsol’s lubricants and smart cushion, his results far exceeded expectations.

The Repsol rider has successfully overcome the challenge and completed the Dakar, the world’s toughest race, with no complications. He finished 35th overall and 4th in the T1.S class (4×4 improved and non-lightweight cross-country vehicles). Isidre Esteve greets Box Repsol just a few hours after landing in Barcelona.

QUESTION: After being away from the Dakar race for eight years, you came back with the intention of finishing the race. Your position in the overall rankings and the competitive level you’ve shown have surpassed all expectations. What do you owe this success to?

ANSWER: Before we kicked off the Dakar Rally 2017, we wouldn’t even have dreamed of finishing in this position. The truth is, generally speaking, things have gone well for us. We didn’t encounter any serious problems, the team’s mood has been fantastic, and from a physical point of view, we’ve endured the race’s difficulties well.

Isidre Esteve en el Dakar 2017

Q: Dakar is considered by most to be the toughest race in the world, mechanical performance also tends to be an important factor. How did the vehicle perform?

A: The only problems we faced with the car have been due to the fact that it is young—it hasn’t taken part in many competitions and we had to fix some failures along the way. But to be honest they were technical problems that only took 15–20 minutes to repair. The fact that we didn’t have any bigger issues is thanks to the quality of the lubricants. All riders know that lubricants are key to avoiding serious mechanical breakdowns, and you have to trust in the lubricants that you use. Dakar is a tough race with considerable altitude and temperature changes. All of these factors have a negative impact on lubricant performance, and therefore increase the risk of mechanical failures.

Q: You’ve exceeded your initial expectations. What would you like to do better in next year’s Rally?

A: My aim is to continue being a competitive driver, and now that I’ve solved the physical issues, to keep developing and improving the technical areas and the team infrastructure. The car was good, but we have to go one step further and make ourselves more competitive. We need to improve our infrastructure and have caravans to rest in after the stages like the other teams. Last but not least, we need to race in more international championships.

Isidre Esteve saliendo en una especial del Dakar

Q: So, are you already setting up next year’s calendar?

A: I am. We need to race and gain more experience in international championships. When we arrived at Dakar, we became aware that we lacked speed. As the days went by, my co-driver Txema Villalobos and I both improved in this aspect. The faster you go, the faster junctions, dangers, and direction changes come your way, and you have to be prepared. That’s why we have to improve not just the calendar, but also our race pace and the car.

Q: Which part of the Dakar 2017 was the most memorable for you?

A: Every single moment. I think Marc Coma did a fantastic job setting up the different race stages. This edition has truly showcased the Dakar spirit. The balance between navigation and pace changes was perfect. There were some outstanding stages, but the ones I was most satisfied with took place in Bolivia and Argentina.

Esteve y Villalobos Dakar 2017

Q: Coming back after eight years, what impression are you taking away with you?

A: Like in all Dakar Rallies, simply finishing the race is very positive. That was our main goal. Out of all the fond memories I have from this year’s Rally, I’d like to mention our time in Bolivia because of its people, the amazing fans, and the atmosphere. The way in which the people spilled out onto the streets with banners, cheering us on continuously, was unbelievable. Our toughest moment was in Volcán (in northern Argentina). The heavy rains caused a mudslide that caused several deaths and injuries, and scores of people had to be evacuated. What I took away from this tragedy is the way in which the Dakar organisers poured all their efforts into helping everyone affected and cancelled the stage to be able to come to their aid.

Q: Any anecdotes worth mentioning?

A: It’s not really an anecdote, but I would like to mention the Dakar spirit. The same spirit that led my teammate, Cristina Gutiérrez, to stop when Txema and I got stuck in soft sand at 11 500 ft (3500 m) above sea level. Poor Txema was doing his best to get the car out of the sand all by himself when Cristina’s car stopped next to ours. She didn’t care about the time she’d lose. Together with her co-driver, Pedro López, they helped us get the car out. You’d never see this in any other race.

Q: What role has the smart cushion played in this competition? Has it worked as expected?

A: It’s been absolutely crucial. At Dakar, riders spend 12 to 15 hours sat at the wheel, and those of us with spinal cord injuries run the risk of developing skin ulcers after so many hours of driving. The smart cushion removes the risk of this type of injuries, allowing the rider to concentrate on driving and competing.

Q: How does it work?

A: The best thing about the smart cushion is that it stimulates the different contact areas independently. It has eight colour-coded areas with electrovalves and a type of software that provide constant movement; this stimulates blood circulation in the areas under pressure. The movement is hardly noticeable, but it changes the pressure on the glutes, almost like a therapeutic massage, which in turn avoids ulcers from forming in the exposed areas. I don’t feel a thing, but my body and skin really notice the difference, and by keeping them happy I can turn my undivided attention to driving and competing.

Isidre Esteve and his co-driver Txema Villalobos successfully completed the world’s most demanding test, and they are quite eager to start preparing to come back next year. At Box Repsol, we urge them to keep improving day after day and to fight for their dreams.