When we were discussing the events of this year’s Dakar Rally with Jonah Street, the topic of Liaison Sections (also called “Transfers,” “Neutralizations” or “Road Sections”) came up. Since not everyone is familiar with the dynamics of rally racing, we asked Street for the down-and-dirty details. So, here’s a quick rundown on rally stages and what they mean:
Liaison: A non-timed section of the race course used to transfer riders from the start of the race to the actual timed sections, from one timed sections to the next or from the last timed section to the bivouac at the end of the day. These sections are not “on-the-clock,” but they are contained by a certain amount of time, which is determined by race organizers and sets off the start time for the next timed (special) section. If you have trouble during a Liaison, you could miss your start time, and the course clock will be running without you.
Special: Short for “Special Section” or “Special Test.” These sections are “on-the-clock,” meaning that you’re racing for your overall accumulated time of the rally. The rider with the least accumulated time at the end of the event wins the race. These sections are where the Dakar Rally is truly won or lost. But, as Jonah Street explains below, both can play huge roles in the overall results.
Take it away, Jonah:
“We’re through the first three days of racing, and for two of those days, for the most part, we’ve been out on the flat of Argentina. The Liaisons have been super hot, monotonous and, basically, like getting on the interstate in Nevada or Interstate 5 in California and just hauling straight for 4 or 5 hours—boring and no fun. Today, however, we were way up in the mountains. It was cold and beautiful. The road was twisty, so the riding was fun. Some days, Liaisons can be good. Other days, they can be really grueling.
“Liaisons are not necessarily a race, but they do play into the race. You can have a problem in a Liaison and miss your start time. Like today: We had a Neutralization Zone of 150 kilometers and, dude, it was gnarly! I stopped once for a pee break and to take a picture. Later, I stopped once again to pee. Otherwise, I was roadracing up to the set speed limit of 120 kph. I got to 100 kilometers from the end, looked at my time and realized, ‘Holy crap! I only have an hour to go 100 kilometers, and the road is super twisty. There’s no way I’m going to average 60 mph on this.’
“Somehow, I pulled into the gas stop before the final special of the day with 30 seconds to spare. I gassed up just my rear tank and hauled ass to the start line/checkpoint. Everyone was just hanging out, waiting. They said, ‘We realized the time was too short for that section, so we’re giving everyone 20 minutes.’
“I was like, ‘Oh man, I just pushed it really hard for no reason.’ The whole section was pavement, and if there had been sand in one of the corners or something would have jumped out at me, I could have easily gone down. Anyone—amateurs, especially—aware of the time crunch could easily crash trying to push it through these types of Liaison situations just to get to their start time.
“That’s the way it goes sometimes on the Liaison sections. They aren’t a race section, but they can definitely affect the outcome of a stage or even the whole race.
“I have a buddy from Uruguay who crashed in Buenos Aires on the first day of riding through town. And today, I went into a full, two-wheel lock just to miss a goat! Right after I took the pee-break picture, I saw a heard of goats on this cliff above the course, and they totally jumped down right in front of me. ‘Here we go again,’ I thought. But I made it through without hitting any of them. I hit a goat in Mongolia during the Rally Mongolia, so maybe they’re following me.
“Liaisons can be rough. Even though we’re not racing, we’re still riding. So, something can go wrong, and if it does, we’re usually alone. If I crash in a solo section when my mechanic is waiting for me at the finish and crush my JVO Racing WR450 Rally Kit gas tank, I doubt any locals will be able to loan me a spare!
Jonah Street is proudly supported by: Yamaha, GYTR, Top1 Oil, PAI, KLIM Technical Riding Gear, Touratech USA, CycoActive, Iridium satellite phones, Rally Management Services, Baja Bound, JVO Racing, Fasst Co., Baja Designs, Motion Pro, Hammer Nutrition, Scott goggles, EVO suspension and The Riff Raff.