Dakar Rally: On The Road to Success

The Dakar Rally started in Buenos Aires for the first time in 2009. Previously, the race had run from Europe to Africa (The Paris-Dakar), but security threats resulted in the move to South America.  The 2009 event was also the first outing for Ellen Lohr – one of Germany’s most accomplished female drivers and a Dakar veteran – as manager of the FleetBoard Mercedes-Benz team. To help manage the complex communications and logistics of a Dakar Rally, the team brought Toughbook 19 fully-rugged convertible tablets and business-rugged Toughbook W7s.

The 2009 rally consisted of 14 legs across Argentina and Chile totaling 9,578 kilometres, and included two Andes crossings. This was by no means the first test of endurance the fully-rugged Toughbook 19 has undergone, but weathering an array of extremities such as knocks, dirt and dust, moisture and extended usage with no recharging opportunities was nevertheless quite a challenge.

Crucial data takes the rough with the smooth
In spite of there being less sand than in past African runnings of the Dakar Rally, both man and machine were put through their paces, going full throttle down demanding dirt tracks and off-road stretches. But that’s just what Panasonic Toughbook computers are made for. Thanks to the Toughbook 19’s magnesium alloy casing and specially cushioned hard drive, the recorded data could be transferred and analyzed each evening back in the bivouac, for the mechanics to fine-tune the vehicle to the next day of racing. The next day, with sand and dust everywhere, it’s the Toughbook 19’s special seal that really comes into its own, concealing all the sockets, plug-in connections and ports behind covers.

The first high-speed office
As a business-rugged model, the Toughbook W7 is usually more suited to office environments. But it’s now in the cockpit of one of the FleetBoard team’s supply trucks. The Toughbook W7 is there because Ellen Lohr is well aware of the importance of mobile communication: “During this sort of media-heavy event, things like PR reports, blogs and other information can serve as an additional impetus when they can be sent and received along the way.” This is done with the aid of transmission options such as UMTS, HSDPA and GPRS in the Toughbook 19 and W7, all of which are as fast as the rally itself. And with such long battery lives, the long stretches of driving with no battery recharge availability need not pose a problem. Even the W7 can keep going for eight hours without being recharged.

It’s the taking part that counts
Two of the team’s three participating vehicles made it to the finishing line and were ranked 76th out of 177 cars and 38th out of 81 trucks – both respectable results that really put a smile on Ellen Lohr’s face: “We’re ever so happy.” Incidentally, Ellen and her team were not the only ones to place their trust in Panasonic Toughbook computers during the 2009 Dakar.

In January 2010, Ellen Lohr and her team were again in South America for the Dakar Rally.  Once again, Toughbook mobile computers were at their side.

This story was originally written and published in 2009 by Panasonic Computer Products Europe