Highs And Lows
By stark contrast to the controlled environment of motocross or supercross, the typical rally takes its riders thousands of miles during the course of a single event, routinely placing them in challenging (read: dangerous) situations. Throughout the 39-year history of the Dakar, there have been more than a few catastrophic incidents, including the deaths of former Dakar champion Fabrizio Meoni in '05 and of Blais' friend and training partner, Elmer Symons, in '07. South African expatriate and Roof of Africa titleholder Symons was introduced to the American off-road scene a few years back by Malcolm Smith, and while here he made a name for himself in desert, GNCC, hare & hound and enduro racing. However, Symons' lifelong passion was the Dakar Rally, so with substantial support from friends and family, his lifelong dream was to be answered. As expected, he rode well in the opening European stages, and despite a support-vehicle failure that nearly ended his rally, Symons and his mechanic (his brother, Philip) somehow made their way across the Strait of Gibraltar to continue the rally. Sadly, on the fourth day of the rally and only his second day in Africa, Symons died as the result of a high-speed crash in the Moroccan desert."Elmer was a good friend, and his death was a result of him riding the way he always rode: charging hard and pushing the limits of his skill and equipment," Blais says. "Elmer was an incredible guy-always friendly, always smiling-and he really loved to ride."Always In The Saddle
An off-road racer's life is linked from event to event, and while it would be nice to be able to sit around and wait for the factory rally manager to ring you up from Europe, sometimes you're just too hungry to think anymore. So you prep your bike and head for the next race. For a racer like Blais that means more than AMA district races-a lot more. Case in point is his ambitious 10-event schedule that kicked off March 10 in Ensenada, Mexico, and his entry into the SCORE Baja 250. Blais was joined by up-and-coming Nevada desert specialist David Pearson aboard a specially built '07 KTM 610cc machine not unlike the 610 that KTM's Kurt Caselli rode to victory in the recent Adelanto Grand Prix."The bike has based on the one-off bikes that the KTM rally department has built for us over the past few years. We've had 690s, 710s and a couple of these 610s to experiment with. They are very powerful, and crazy fast-for some courses, way too fast-but when they stay together, nothing can run with 'em," Blais notes.Unfortunately, shortly after rolling off the starting line as first bike in Ensenada, Blais' number-2X KTM 610 suffered a cracked engine case, resulting in a steady loss of oil and the life-sustaining qualities it provides. Calmly, Blais surveyed the trouble and immediately went to work. Two long hours later, Pearson mounted the bike and headed back down the course. Lesser teams would have thrown in the towel and called it a day, especially when chances for a win or podium finish were nil."Hey, that's racing," a surprisingly upbeat Blais commented after seeing that his corider made it safely to the finish line. "Ask any veteran rider down here (in Baja); they've all got their stories of being broken down but somehow making it to the finish line. If you're smart, you learn something every time you come to Baja. The lessons are tough, but the final exams are still worth taking!"The road to Dakar is never easy, and a lot of the journey is in just getting to the starting line in '08. Blais is heading there with high hopes.