The Race2Recovery team has finally realised their ultimate goal by beginning this assault on the fearsome Dakar Rally in South America. The Land Rover-sponsored team's four Defender-based Wildcat race vehicles took to the start line in Lima, Peru on Saturday 5 January, signalling the start of 15 days of racing across 8,500km over extreme mountain and desert terrain that will take them through southern Peru, Argentina and across the border into Chile, where they hope to cross the finish line in Santiago on Sunday 20 January.
Race2Recovery has also received Royal backing when, in November, it became the first ever recipient of a grant from the Endeavour Fund, set up by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
The Race2Recovery team has rapidly risen to become a fully functioning rally raid team in only 18 months. Originally beginning their campaign with one Land Rover Freelander and a handful of members, the team now totals 28 people with four Wildcat race vehicles and a fleet of support vehicles including a 4x4 truck that will race the course in order to support the race cars, plus 8x8 support trucks and Land Rover Discovery vehicles to help move the support team and mechanical equipment.
Speaking from Lima ahead of start of the race, Captain Tony Harris, 31, one of Race2Recovery's rally drivers who is a below-the-knee amputee as a result of injuries suffered while serving in Afghanistan, said: "Having been part of Race2Recovery right from the beginning and having put in so much work, along with the rest of the team, it feels surreal to finally be in Lima and be hours away from revving up on the start line. There were times this year when we were working day and night on the vehicles, with team members sleeping on the workshop floor before getting up and starting all over again.
"We really want to make all the people who have supported us proud, whether that's family and friends, our sponsors, our extended team and all the public and media who have been so encouraging and have backed us all the way. We're here to enjoy the experience but we're also here as a serious team with a serious goal of getting our four race cars across that finish line. We're proud that our efforts have been able to fundraise for Tedworth House Personnel Recovery Centre, a cause close to mine and the team's hearts, and we urge people to log on to our website and donate."
Currently the team are sadly down to three cars in the competition. This is because of the recent news that the Wildcat of Captain Tony Harris and Cathy Derousseaux has been excluded from the Dakar Rally. Having returned to the bivouac after midnight at the end of Stage 2, the team were allowed to start yesterday’s stage pending an analysis of the previous day’s results. A committee of the race organisers met yesterday and based on the evidence before them determined that Harris and Derousseaux had not reached sufficient way points to be allowed to continue in the rally.
Tony said: “After two years of hard work, it’s heartbreaking for Cathy and I, but the Race2Recovery project has always been about the team and we must remember that we still have three Wildcats competing strongly in the rally. Cathy and I will now do everything we can to support them as they strive to reach the finish. We’ll be the team’s official cheerleaders!”
Race2Recovery, the group of predominantly injured soldiers who formed a rally team to raise funds for Forces charities, were today celebrating the sensational achievement of becoming the first ever disability team to complete the world's toughest race - the Dakar Rally.
The team's Land Rover Defender-based Wildcat race vehicle of driver Major Matt O'Hare and co-driver Corporal Phillip Gillespie, crossed the finish line in Santiago, Chile, yesterday to signal the end of an extraordinary two weeks of racing.
The team, sponsored by Land Rover which provided off-road training, parts, Discovery support vehicles and financial support, was elated as they crossed the line. Major O'Hare and Corporal Gillespie were quick to praise their teammates, including the mechanics and support team, as they spoke shortly after completing the final stage.
Major O'Hare, 32, originally from Hereford, said: "It's not quite sinking in that we've actually done it. I'm ecstatic and am so proud and pleased for the whole Race2Recovery team. Our mechanics and support team have kept us in the race and their work and dedication was second to none. Our other drivers and co-drivers who were forced to retire earlier in the race became an integral part of the support team as we continued the challenge and so this really is a team success. To complete the Dakar Rally is an incredible achievement in itself, but to become the first ever disability team to cross that finish line lifts the achievement to a whole other level."