Dakar rally crash means Hereford driver is team's last chance

Ledbury Reporter: Mark Cullum (centre) of the Race2Recovery team of injured servicemen and civilian volunteers. Mark Cullum (centre) of the Race2Recovery team of injured servicemen and civilian volunteers.

THE hopes of disabled rally team Race2Recovery of finishing this year's gruelling 9,000km Dakar Rally now lie solely on the shoulders of Hereford firefighter Mark Cullum.

And following disaster on day two, the team - made up in part by injured ex-servicemen - will look to draw on their motto 'beyond injury, achieving the extraordinary' to make it to the finish line in Chile.

On just the second stage of the historic desert rally both the team's race cars were eliminated - one suffering mechanical failure, the other flipping over on a sand dune.

This left T4 support truck driver Mark Cullum at the wheel of Race2Recovery's last remaining vehicle.

Team founder Tony Harris said: "Our dream of finishing for a second year running is very much alive, although we’re conscious there is a long way to go.

"Having to retire two race cars was a big blow but the whole team committed to working as hard as possible to keep our T4 race truck in this year’s Dakar."

Last year, Race2Recovery made history as the first disabled team to complete the Dakar.

Mr Cullum - an off-road driving specialist for Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service - was brought in to help train the 2013 team, while another Hereford man, Major Matt O'Hare, piloted the car.

This year the 51-year-old was given the wheel himself, and chosen to pilot the T4 truck.

Initially there to assist both race cars as they cross the deserts, mud and rocks of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, the support vehicle is also entered into the rally.

Provided the T4 completes each stage, however, it remains in the race and, if both cars are forced to retire , it takes over as the team's race vehicle.

That almost didn't happen; on day two, with both cars eliminated, the T4 stopped to help another team whose car was in trouble.

Described as acting in the "true spirit of the Dakar" by his team leader, Mr Cullum and his amputee copilot Daniel Whittingham had to then put the pedal to the metal, speeding back over the treacherous sand dunes to complete the stage in time.

"The crew did a fantastic thing, turning around to help another stranded team, and for that act alone they deserved to continue on this adventure," said Mr Harris, who also piloted one of the team's cars.

"The longer we stay in the competition, the more exposure we can give to the charities that we’re supporting."

On that front, the team has already won, raising more £250,000 for military charities including Help for Heroes.

Speaking before the event, Mr Cullum said: "We all know how much work it takes to get to the Dakar, and then to stay in the Dakar, but the team is well prepared."

Their preparation has already been pushed to the limits, however now with Mr Cullum centre-stage, the team is more determined that ever to cross the line in Valparaiso on Saturday.

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