Dakar 2019 winner Eduard Nikolaev

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Russia’s Kamaz-Master crew of Eduard Nikolaev wins 2019 Dakar rally in trucks category

Three successes in a row in the toughest rally in the world. What’s the secret of this performance? Your driving style? Your crew? The entire kamaz team? Vladimir Chagin strategy? Your truck? A mix of all these reasons?

First of all this is the team victory. Our result came thanks to the team and thanks to our leader, who devotes us a lot of time and imparts us pilot skills. And certainly, much depended on vehicles. This year we were driving new trucks, with new engines that proved themselves. Reliability of vehicles, the team, team experience are the components of success.

Did you change in any way your driving style to adjust it to an all Peruvian ‘special’ Dakar?

For me, this Dakar was very difficult, for the first time I encountered such complexity of the relief of the dunes. Though last year we already got to the Peruvian sands, but the organizers somehow bypassed the dunes that were this year. The experience, that we have in driving on the sands, certainly helped, but this year when I was driving through the dunes, I realized that I was moving by some miracle, that I didn’t get stuck somewhere, I was not falling on the side, it was very difficult. In my career I have never driven on such sands. I would like to train further, to find such sands somewhere, I feel that I still have not worked out such sands and I need to drive on them. 

Eduard Nikolaev’s Kamaz

Can you tell us, in some detail, the history of your Dakar this year? Was it more difficult than last year edition, due to the extensive presence of sand, unpredictable dunes, fesh-fesh, dangerous canyons?

The difficulty was that we started first and already at the first SS saw the armada of competitors behind us, who wanted to catch up and overtake with each kilometer, it was difficult to hold positions. Last year I also started first, but I had the third best result after the first section, and this year I managed to lead on the first two SSs, that was not easy either. The dunes were unpredictable, and if usually analyzing the special stages after the evening briefing, after the organizers’ narrative, you somehow preliminarily imagine the next day – how hard it would be, what river beds would be there, what obstacles – so now there were such dunes that even on short sections you could expect traps that you could not even think about. And indeed you were caught in them and you had to waste a lot of time. Also, the difficulty was that the race was shorter this year. Though you can’t say, that it was quite short – 10 days, 3000 km of special stages, 10 km of driving on the sand felt equal to 300-400 km of hard roads. The average speed was small, if you look at how long we drove on the SS of 250-280 km, then certainly the result wouldn’t not even come close to driving on hard tracks. One short day, the table could change so much that you lost and could win back immediately.

Did you ever feel ‘alone’ in this year rally, because your teammates Mardeev and Karginov had to abandon the competition?

Of course I missed support of the guys. When two trucks abandoned it seriously affected our strategy, our command tactics, it was harder. We had heart-pounding, emotional moments when we really lost time. I think that if the team had been in full, then such moments would not have happened and the fans and the team management would not have worried so much.

Eduard Nikolaev, pilot of the crew No 500 and Vladimir Chagin, KAMAZ-master team leader

What did you think when you found your truck stuck in the sand during Stage 8 special? Did you lose your faith in the victory in Lima?

No, as I said, 100 kilometers of dunes can change the whole race, and I realized how much I lost, how much time I still had, but I didn’t focus on it, I just did my job. I try to never think about time, just to do my job, what is required of me on SS. Yes, I did my best to get out of the jam, to get out of this situation, we gave it 100% and continued to go to the finish, adding the pace, of course. Somewhere there was more risk, because we realized that the time was lost, but it was a necessity and I think the risk was justified to try a little, but to win back. The situation was not simple, for the first time in my career there was such a sticking, in the horizontal plane. According to the stories of our teammates, they faced such situations in Africa, but this was my first time. I am grateful to the whole crew that we could dig out quickly from such a position that we made the right decision, left ourselves, dug out ourselves.

Would you like to race in a bonnet truck in the future? Have you ever tried this solution?

Bonnet truck is very interesting. I am glad that our crew managed to participate in construction of the first bonnet truck for the team and be its test pilot. The truck performed very well. This is our next step and our future. As the bonnet truck allows to go faster in any conditions, and in the sands, and winding tracks, and off-road.

The first stage in the truck classification was won by the KAMAZ crew of Eduard Nikolaev.

What does it mean this success in the year in which Kamaz celebrates its 50th anniversary?

Yes, we really wanted to bring the result and dedicate it to the 50th anniversary of our KAMAZ plant, it is a great honor for us, that we are related to it, we are a part of the plant. We wanted to make a gift for the anniversary, glad that we managed.

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