ME AS DRIVER AND AGUSTÍN PAYÁ AS A CODRIVER, WE WERE THE FIRST IN THE HISTORY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE DAKAR WITH A 100% ELECTRIC CAR. WE CREATED AND DEVELOPED A PROJECT THAT NOW, DUE TO ACCIONA, IT’S IN THE THIRD EDITION AND IT HAS CLEAR OPPORTUNITIES TO FINISH THE RACE.
About to start a new edition of the Dakar Rally, I take the opportunity to review one of the milestones and, at the same time, one of the failures of which I am most proud.
Two years ago I became the first driver in history to participate in the world’s toughest motor race with a 100% electric vehicle (without a single drop of fuel in the car).
Getting onto the Dakar starting podium with my co-driver Agustín Payá was one of the most special moments of my track record. We did not manage to finish and we did not achieve the sportive success, but I am clear that for innovating we must accept to risk; and for innovating with a purpose of positive impact for the world, we must accept being wrong, being criticized, and putting into play everything that is needed for things to progress.
My evolution as a pilot and adventurer committed to the environment and sustainability led me, after racing 8 Dakars, to refuse to participate again with a combustion car. Then, in 2012, I met Agustín Payá, a passionate about the electric vehicle, and together we set ourselves the challenge of racing the Dakar with a 100% Zero Emissions car. We didn’t initiate this project only for a personal purpose, for our ego or for having fun. Beyond our sporting goals, there was a purpose, which was to take advantage of the adventure and the platform of such an important event, to spread sustainable mobility and clean energy as a key possibility and need for our future.
We started the sales phase of the project, offering it to different companies, but the high cost and commitment of sustainability required, did not make it easy to search for sponsors. Finally, we were able to move forward with ACCIONA, a company that had these values as a fundamental part of its corporate mission and discourse. It took us a year and a half of meetings and negotiations, until in April 2014, we signed an agreement that would lead us to participate in the Dakar 2015. We were given two special conditions: they wanted to be the owners of the team, without sharing sponsorship with nobody else; and they wanted to manage the communication. We obviously agreed, because our priority was to realize the project, and funding is was the key point.
From there we lived a very stressful period. In less than seven months we had to build a totally experimental car, assemble an exceptional logistics, negotiate a special regulation with the organization, develop all communication concepts, and meet some infarct-proof deadlines. And all this creating a team from zero, with members from multiple disciplines and with very different values and perceptions around the central purpose of the project (clean energy and sustainability).
But finally, at 19:20 pm on January 4th, 2015, the great dream came true. The seed was planted. A 100% electric car, which did not generate emissions, went up onto the ramp of the world’s most difficult motor race. Everyone knew the possibilities were minimal; but many of us we felt that the challenge was worth it and that it was the beginning of a project that we ourselves or someone else in the future should complete.
Each kilometer raced was a new world record. We overcome the first stage without problems. The second stage could be completed with many difficulties, but it should be remembered that 52 cars were blocked in a lethal trap that caused the abandonment of a third of the vehicles. It had never happened in the history of the Dakar that they abandoned so many cars right at the start. Nobody knows yet the cause of that debacle or that failure of the organization occurred; but we do know that the Race Director resigned a few months later. Even that, the electric car could be at the start of the third stage, and 52 combustion engine cars could not say the same. Unfortunately the car stopped at Km. 25. It was not a problem of the electric motor nor of the autonomy, but a failure of the control unit that was broken.
Many people criticized the project. Many cynics or skeptics with the electric car, sustainable mobility or clean energy, were very happy. Many people laughed at the project keeping really happy to enjoy, compete or doing show through an activity absolutely linked to the oil culture, the current worst cancer in our society. But we knew that despite the sporting failure, we had achieved a great victory. This was a project of innovation, of contribution of value, of genuine commitment. The world does not evolve from conformists and followers, but from those who want to question the existing reality (especially when it is not positive), and have the courage to try new things that, little by little, or suddenly, can help to improve the world.
That dream that Agustín and me had in 2012, planted its seed in 2015 and is bearing fruit, as it is still alive with the Acciona Dakar Team, which is about to begin its third consecutive participation in the race. We worked with persistence and passion for more than two years, and we were only on top of the car during two stages, but that served to keep others going. Unfortunately I did not agree with the plans and proposals of the sponsor, and I had to separate from the project that I had created with Agustín; but fortunately Acciona continued to bet and put the necessary resources. Last year, more stages were already achieved, and in this edition everything seems to be well addressed to achieve the goal of a vehicle without fuel finishing the Dakar Rally.
I just want this car to finish and prove that electric vehicles can face any challenge. And I also hope that if the goal is achieved, beyond the sponsors’ marketing objectives or the sports ambitions of the people involved, all this will be a very powerful opportunity to promote and spread a commitment to the environment, so that the new technologies and clean energies serve to develop more sustainable and efficient communities, improving our lives and those of the following generations.
Starting on January 2nd, the Dakar 2017 begins. The media will only talk about speed and competition, but my favorite and the favorite of all who love the planet and sustainability, has to be the electric car of Acciona.