Guy Giroux Talks about Racing the 2002 Paris-Dakar Rally
By Billy Rainford
The Dakar Rally has just finished stage 5 of the 2020 event. It’s taking place in Saudi Arabia this year. Back in the day, it actually went from Paris, France to Dakar in Senegal.
In 2002, our old friend Guy Giroux from Quebec headed over to race the famed event. I’ve always known he went and did it, but never really talked to him about it…until now.
Guy now works for Sherco, but he was kind enough to take some time to reminisce about this crazy race, so it back and read his first-hand telling of what has to be considered one of the toughest tests of man and machine the world has to offer.
Direct Motocross: OK, Guy, I’ve known you since the MX Forum days over a decade ago, but let’s back up and give everyone some background on you. How did you first get involved in Motocross and Off Road?
Guy Giroux: Well, it all started in 1978, if I remember correctly. My dad bought me and my brother the neighbour’s Z50 for us to play around our cabin up north. From there my bro, who is older, was really into off road, and entered his first race in 1983. I was still too young for off-road back in those days…. Couple years later I entered my first Enduro on an 80cc.
As a youngster, what did you race more of, MX or Off Road? What were some of your highlights from coming up through the ranks?
I started racing Enduro in 1985 and by 1988 I was racing at the ISDE (Six Days). It all went pretty fast after coming back from the Six Days.
It was obvious that to go faster in off road I needed to race MX, so till 1994 I was racing Off –Road, but also racing MX part-time to get faster.
In 1991 I was national champ in off road, and in 1994 I quit off road to race MX full-time.
In 1995 and 96 I was #8 in national MX and was a top 3-5 guy in Quebec, then when I became too slow for MX I went back to off road.
And at the end of 2012 I kind of started racing for fun….with the old guys.
You’re famous for the #801. Why did you choose this number?
In 2003 I was scheduled to race the GNCC for the season and I needed a permanent number over there, so I took the list to find me a nice number but it was pretty hard to find a 2-digit number, so I decided to get a 3-digit number that I could use for GNCC/MX/Supermoto etc….
So the bigger the better and less chance of having a dude with the same. Then 8 was an easy choice for my MX days, and the 1 for my old championships. Since 108 was taken, 801 became my identity!!!
Now you’re working for Sherco. What is your job there and what is your day-to-day life like?
I’m the General Manager. In resume I’m the sales guy, marketing guy, racing manager, technical guy, racer, mechanic, truck driver…
Most of my weekdays are spent on the phone or computer, trying to find new dealers, sell more bikes, help with technical questions, and my weekends are at events mainly doing off road races in the east(QC/ON).
The rest of the time I try to have as much fun as possible with the family. We try to hit X-Town once a week and we ride MTB a lot. We also try to hit a few MTB races each year, and in the winter we snowboard 2-3 times a week. Mini Me is now old enough that he can come along!
The Dakar Rally is going on right now in Saudi Arabia. You’ve done this race before, back in the days when it actually went from Paris to Dakar! Was this a race that you always dreamed of doing?
Actually, no lol… But I always loved to look a those bikes for some reason. Mainly, the reason I never dreamed of the Dakar was the crazy amount of $$$ involved to do a race like that!
Here is the crazy part of this whole adventure: one night, I’m sitting home and the phone rings (back in the time when you couldn’t see who was calling so I answered). Well, the dude asks for me and goes, “How would you like to come to Dakar with me as a teammate?” I went, “Sure, but I have no money.” He said, “I have money for both of us, don’t worry, but I don’t know how to ride a bike” !!!! I said, “If you pay, I’ll teach you how to ride.”
That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! Did you climb Everest with him, too? Just kidding. That was back in 2002, and that’s what we want to talk about today. How does someone even get registered for this race?
Like I said earlier, registration is pretty easy, all you need is a truckload of money! Haha. Eric Dubeau (aka Rallyman since then) took care of all the paperwork. We did some medical tests and other stuff, like vaccine for all of Africa’s diseases, and once everything was cleared Rallyman was over $200 000 in expense for a one-race deal!
What had you been doing to prepare for this adventure?
Back in those days i was a machine. Haha. Seriously, once my season was over in Canada (I was racing national MX, national off road and QC off road), I just kept riding as much as I could. I also got a big KTM 640 Adventure to ride in the trails to get used to a bigger bike. Once it got too cold to ride, I did a lot of indoor cycling and gym work.
I’m curious about some of the behind-the-scenes stuff. How did you arrange bike transport, for example?
Eric bought an XR 650 from a Swiss tuner, so he flew there a few months earlier to check the bike, and I bought a KTM rally replica factory bike for 20 000 euro (back then $35 000), and KTM delivered the bike to me straight at the event.
Keep in mind, this was back when communications sucked, so I flew there hoping they would not forget to pack it in the truck.
Funny story: as I was trying to find my bike at the KTM truck, a tall Austrian guy finally found my bike in one of the support trucks. When he gave me my bike they were all talking in German and having fun. They were actually taking bets how long I would last since I had never ridden a rally bike before. Haha. But I’ll get back to this story later.
Who did you go over with to help you?
Eric Dubeau (Rallyman), and two mechanics, Martin Laporte and Martin Ducharme. Both of the mechanic, were entered in the race in a support SUV ( Rallyman basically rented them 2 seats in an assistance truck). Those guys would ride in the SUV doing trails and road to get to the bivouac and fix our bikes every night.
With my KTM, I had bought a support package from the factory which consisted of giving a credit card number to KTM that would give you access to their huge support trucks that are in resume rolling dealership. Haha.
Did you you know what to expect or did everything come at you like it was your first race? What was it like getting settled and ready for Day 1?
I had absolutely no idea what we were doing! Haha. We went there with the only goal of finishing the race. Once I got my bike, I installed the GPS, adjusted stuff to my liking, and went through tech to finalized the registration. Then, the first couple of days were mainly liaison from France to Spain to Morocco, so I learned to ride the bike and use the road book on the highways of France in the rain at -2 degrees.
Let’s talk about how the race actually goes. What does an average Stage consist of?
The bikes always start first, so you wake up from your little tent, go to the outdoor cantina (this was in Africa remember. I think now it’s better from what I see). From your typical euro breakfast (hard bread and cold meat) you usually leave for a few hundreds kilometre liaison, then get to the start of the special. From there you race and navigate for around 300-500km. Then it’s another liaison to the bivouac. The average day is between 500-800km.
What about the pits? What do you do at the end of each day to be ready for the next?
Once you reach the bivouac, the first priority is the bike, so I would tell the mechanic what to fix, and I would go to the KTM truck to see my tall Austrian friend (since I’m so smart, once we got to Africa and the weather got hot, I used some of my meal tickets to get cold beer and would bring it to my new friend).
Anyway, I would always get my parts quick, then I would go to set my house up. Every rider gets a big box where you have to put everything you will need for two weeks in, so I would open my small box set my tent, and then eat a typical euro lunch sitting on a rock in the middle of the desert, while waiting on the managers’ meeting to know info on the next day’s special. But all this depends on how fast you get to the bivouac. Some nights Rallyman would take 4-5 hours more than me to reach it.
Did you latch on to anyone else who could maybe help keep things running smoothly?
The first days in the dunes I had no clue what I was doing, so I followed a French rider. He then stopped and started yelling, “We’re lost! Blah, blah, blah…” and he went backwards. I looked at my stuff and said, “Whatever, screw him, I’m following my stuff,” and from that moment when I reached the waypoint I never trusted any other racer. I was also trying to run my own pace to avoid riding mistakes and crashing by pushing over my limits.
Let’s talk about the course, itself. What was the European part like?
France was crazy, there were so many spectators, everywhere, cheering for us, on overpasses at night, by the highway, people with signs and flags, then we would do a small 5-10km special as a show and to get the starting orders for Africa. But the weather was shitty cold and rainy. We did probably close to 1500km to get to Morocco.
What about getting over into Africa. What was involved there? What about safety in general? Did you feel safe?
Once we got on the ferry to cross from Spain to Morocco, the party was over… North of Africa is a strange place… The first bivouac in Africa we realized we were not going to be in a Club Med! No more of everything, from Johnny-On-The-Spots to chair to sit in, to shower (we had to buy buckets of dirty water from locals to clean ourselves every 3-4 days. Haha). It was Africa at its finest. Haha.
Also, the bivouacs are so noisy, imagine large support trucks arriving all night long, guys fixing bikes, cars and trucks with sledgehammers… And to make everything safe, the guards are wearing turbans with AK47’s!
The second night in Africa before crossing to Mauritania, while doing a liason at 2 am, on the road book there was a huge danger sign: “Watch out for Land Mines!” And to make things more interesting, some UN Guards were by the side of the trails with machine guns! I don’t know who they were expecting, but, let me tell you, it made for a pretty interesting ride.
As far as personal safety while you ride, every bike has a safety beacon, and there is a lot of safety material that you need to carry with you all the time (3 litres of water on the bike, survival blanket, flairs, compass). But now guys have satellite phone, GPS locator on the bikes, special beeper when a truck approaches them to pass, etc..) It is much safer now, plus the bikes are also smaller. My bikes was a 660, pushing 85 hp, with a 50 litre fuel capacity. Now they are 450’s with 28 litres of fuel .
And then was the rest of the course like we’re seeing now in the Middle East?
From what I saw from the first few days of this year, the course looks pretty similar to Africa. In Africa, the course would often change with the country we would cross: Morocco was really rocky, Mauritania was more sand, then, the more we rode into the race the sandier it got.
Did you have any sketchy moments out there?
I had a ton of them. Imagine riding 9500km without doing any mistakes! Haha. One day I got lost and did approximately 120km too much. That day I was riding with a Japanese guy. Once we found the good trail we found a Factory KTM with no rider and no safety beacon. We realized it was waiting for the recovery truck.
The Japanese rider had more experience than me and started to steal the gas tank from the bike. In my best Japanese accent I asked why? He started yelling, “Petrol…Petrol!” Shit, we were gonna run out of fuel because of our little excursion!
Also, later in the race the TV crew decided to set me up to do an interview while I was riding. Everything went fine and as soon as we finished the interview I hit something and flew over the bars and landed on my head. I guess the helicopter heard my scream in the microphone and turned back to see if I was alright. It took a while to get some wind back. It was a pretty big crash and a few vertebra got kicked out of place. From there I backed out the pace a bit. Haha.
How did you end up, as far as results?
Like I said, in the beginning the goal was to finish, but after a few days in Morocco I asked my tall Austrian friend, “When is this shit gonna get hard? All we ride is gravel road, and I’m getting passed by semi trucks down the straightaways!” ( I was around 40th)
He looked at me strangely and said, “After the rest day you can go fast if you’re still capable!”
The next three days were all dunes and soft sand. I finished those stages 12-13-12, and I was now eating breakfast with the factory guys! And I was also getting my parts way faster at the KTM truck!
I went on to finish in 16th place (2nd in the rookie division), best North American that year (It also took Red Bull KTM 3 years and a $2 million budget to beat me. Haha.).
Let’s not forget the Rallyman that also finished in 48th place! This guy had no off road experience 8 month before, but he was mentally tough as a rock.
And to close the loop with my tall Austrian friend, after the race was over we all went out in a bar in Dakar to celebrate. Once we got merrier I asked him what was his job was at KTM, since he was the parts guy in the truck. He told me he was the CEO???!!!
Since I might have had a few too many in me, plus the German accent, I asked another guy what the hell is was talking about. His answer was, “He IS the boss! Haha!”
His name was Winnie Kerschhaggl, he was #2 at KTM. My new best friend was a KTM boss! Haha. After a few more beers, that’s when he told me that the mechanics were taking bets on me on how long I would last, and the longest was 4 days. He also told me they had never seen anyone without any experience do what I did.
“I’ve seen stuff that not many people have seen, or will see! I’ve met incredible people, starting with Rallyman, who we share a special relationship since this race.”Guy Giroux
I knew this was going to be a great story! Was this the toughest event you’ve ever done?
Physically, no, if you don’t count the missing skin on the butt from riding for 16 days. But mentally this thing is completely unreal. First you lack sleep so much and you are 24/7 stressed, plus the concentration needed to navigate and ride the bike and not crash at crazy speed.
Africa really scared me also. The year before, guys were getting highjacked and getting their bikes stolen in the race! As soon as I would see someone in the tracks I would make an effort to go as far as possible of him. I also realized, once I was there, that I’m far from a camping type of guy. I’m more of a princess and I appreciate luxury like a shitter and a shower.
It took me a few months to recover from that whole adventure. I remember waking up at night in my apartment back then and running outside in the Quebec snow looking for my bike. And more than once! Hopefully, I would walk back inside, eat a whole row of Oreo’s and go back to sleep.
Did you try to go back?
I did start to think about it in 2007. I called Winnie to arrange for a bike and he convinced me to not do it. Back in those days, 1-2 guys would die every year. Bikes were too fast and big!
What would you tell anyone who may be considering tackling this particular event?
Be smart and go slow! You cannot finish this race if you push (Unless it’s your job). And I hope you have a big bank account. Haha. But the experience you gain from this adventure is worth so much. I’ve seen stuff that not many people have seen, or will see! I’ve met incredible people, starting with Rallyman, who we share a special relationship since this race.
Have you been doing any races lately?
I’m back full-time, dude! Haha. Since I’m with Sherco, I’ve pretty much hit all of the off road races to promote the bikes. I race the Vet Expert, usually, and sometimes the Pro class to see if I can beat a few kids.
Last year I won the FMSQ Vet Pro and the Cord Vet Pro. My goal is more to show what the bikes are capable of and have fun, compared to before when I needed to win to eat. Haha. Now it’s more family time since my girlfriend is also racing, and Mini Me will probably start next year, so I will become a Mini Dad.
What’s new over there at Sherco? Anything we should know about?
I guess the biggest news is that the USA is really stepping up. They signed up really good riders Cody Webb, the Baylor Brothers, and they also made a collaboration with FXR for North America to produce the clothing! This should really help us, since most of the racing effort was previously made in Europe. On the Canadian side, we are still working towards getting a few more dealers on board.
OK, sorry that went so long, but it was worth the trip! Thanks for taking the time to take us through that crazy adventure. Would you like to thank anyone?
For sure. First, big thanks to the Rallyman. Without him that whole crazy story was nothing. Now also the guys in France at Sherco for their trust in me. On the support side, most of these guys have had my back since my beginning: Motovan, Lee at Pro-Tech, Scott at Dunlop, the whole gang at Motul, Jake at Oakley, Ben at Cybercycle for the cool bicycle, Lime Nine, fah-q racing, and soon Andy at FXR.