For their initiation into rally raids, Lang Xu and Young Zhou set themselves two objectives: to drive their Nissan Paladins to Lake Rose and to speak a few words of French while improving their English, rudimentary until now. Concerning the second point, they are counting on their navigators, the Belgian Fabian Lurquin for Lang Xu and the Frenchman Denis Schurger for Young Zhou. At mid-race the assessment is positive. “They know how to count and they know a few basic French expressions like ‘bonjour, comment ça va?’,” explains Bruno Delprat, the interpreter who belongs to the Dessoude Team. “And Lang Xu has taught a few words of Chinese to Fabian Lurquin, but I’m afraid they’re mainly rude words.”
For the navigation, therefore, the teams use a mixture of French, English and Chinese. For example, to warn of a hazard, Fabian announces “weixian” (which means danger in Chinese) but when it’s a matter of a major hazard he says “big weixian”. Likewise, to announce a hole he keeps the French word, but when the road book warns of a large hole, he says “big trou”.
On the subject of their objective (to get to Dakar) the two Chinese drivers are again off to a good start. After the loop around Atar, Young Zhou and Denis Schurger held the 22nd place in the general rankings, with Lang Xu and Fabian Lurquin on their heels, six seconds behind them! “They were a little too impetuous at the beginning, but we calmed them down,” André Dessoude relates. “As the Chinese are disciplined people they remembered the lesson and now it’s going well, they are well up on our advice.”
Used to traditional rallies in China, in fact the two hopeful drivers had a little trouble understanding that to go fast in a rally raid, it’s necessary to know how to drive sensibly. All the more so since there is a little rivalry between Lang Xu and Young Zhou. Outdistanced by the younger man at the beginning of the race, Young Zhou wanted to attack and he tanked in a dune. “Ordinarily they are adversaries in the Chinese rally championship, but they’ve toned it down,” a delighted Bruno Delprat says. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they have become friends, but they are team mates and that’s already good. For example, during the Zouérat-Tichit stage, no. 366 ran out of petrol very close to the finish. No. 367 arrived a little later and towed him by rope to the finish. It was great, even though I imagine Young Zhou took advantage of it to make fun of his compatriot a bit.”
The other satisfaction for the Dessoude clan is how completely the two Chinese are acclimated to the life of the team and the bivouac. “They are a little family within our family”, André stresses concerning the two drivers, but also their team manager. “He does everything possible to facilitate the daily life of his protégés. Every evening he sets up his camping materials between two Nissan vehicles and prepares a Chinese dinner with the resources on board. What he certainly doesn’t know is that when Lang Xu and Young Zhou come to share this collation, they have already swallowed the meal served at the bivouac! Already during their stay in Saint-Lô, you’d have to see what they ate, like oysters and whelks!”, Bruno Delprat says, amused.
From the point of view of media repercussions, the operation is already a success. “It’s crazy!,” exclaims André Dessoude. “A team from Chinese television has been following the team since Barcelona. Zhengzhou Nissan has worked very well in this area. Every evening, 45 million television viewers follow the summary of the stage for twenty minutes broadcast on a sports channel, and 450 million Chinese follow the information of the evening on the sports page of the largest chain.” A show and excellent results that benefit the Nissan Paladin. “There was already a Chinese driver with Dessoude last year and, in a market that has stagnated, the Nissan Paladin succeeded in getting out while the going was good,” notes the interpreter. At a time when China is opening up to the world, it would not be impossible to see the number of Chinese involved at the start of the Dakar shoot up in the next few years.