The rally-marathon Dakar 2021 is starting from the Red Sea shore in Jeddah on January 3. The upcoming event will become the 43rd in general and second on the territory of Saudi Arabia.
The coronavirus pandemic has made serious adjustments not only to everyday life, but also to the sports calendar. In 2020, a large number of races across the globe, both regional and international, were canceled, leaving sports crews without practice and competitions. Fortunately, the restrictions did not affect the Dakar 2021. The rally organizers, directed by David Castera, did a great job to bring the athletes and teams to Saudi Arabia. From year to year, one of the most spectacular is rivalry in the truck category. High speeds of multitone giants, overcoming obstacles of any complexity on their way, inspire respect of millions of Dakar fans. In 1980, the Algerians became pioneers of the Dakar truck classification: three Sonacome M210 trucks reached the finish line, taking first, third and fourth places. The second in the general classification became the fast assistance MAN of a contestant in the car category.
For KAMAZ-master, the upcoming Dakar will become the 30th in general. To the surprise of many, the trucks reached the finish line of their second Dakar (1991) without losses, and the crews of Vladimir Goltsov and Joel Tammeka took the second and third positions of the podium. The first victory by the team from the banks of the Kama River was already taken in 1996. Since then, KAMAZ-master has won the famous Dakar 17 times, raising the bar for everyone who decides to fight for the Golden Bedouin.
The publication of the 2021 rally-marathon poses a serious target for numerous contestants, and not everyone will be able to deliver on it. More than 550 people applied for the Dakar, including 44 truck crews. In 12 stages, the racing caravan will cover nearly 7,800 kilometers, and the combat distance will be almost 4,800 kilometers. A real challenge for those who are not afraid of difficulties.
KAMAZ-master team is presenting four sports trucks KAMAZ-43509 for the race. The crews of the current Dakar champion Andrey Karginov, the winner of the Silk Way Rally-2019 Anton Shibalov, as well as crews of Airat Mardeev and Dmitry Sotnikov will represent Russia in the truck category of the international competition. The five-time winner of the rally-marathon Eduard Nikolaev will assist the head of the team Vladimir Chagin in solving all organizational and technical problems in Saudi Arabia.
On boundless expanses of the Arabian Peninsula, KAMAZ will defend the title of the Dakar champions in a difficult struggle with main contestants in the truck classification: IVECO, TATRA, MAZ, PRAGA, RENAULT and MAN.
On the eve of the two-week marathon, it’s time to get acquainted with the main contenders for the podium in the truck category, ready to show their skills on the tricky Dakar tracks. 44 crews, representing 30 teams from different regions of the world, are eager to start the main motorsport adventure of the year.
Every year the Dakar surprises with one or another event. This time the Chilean Ignacio Casale made an unusual decision. The 33-year-old South American gained fame by winning the main prize of the rally-marathon three times – in 2014, 2018 and 2020 in the quad category, he also contested on a bike and SSV (unsuccessfully in both cases). And now he challenged another category by becoming a member of the Czech Tatra Buggyra Racing team. Curiously, the holder of the Dakar Legend title started his career as a navigator of his father … in the cab of Atakama-2038 truck in 2010.
The rookie’s team-mate from the Czech Republic will be experienced Martin Soltys, whose TATRA is now equipped with an automatic gear box. In general, 18 Czechs registered in the truck classification, and the country is only behind Spain and France in terms of the number of the Dakar contestants.
The talented Czech Martin Macik Junior (31) from BIG SHOCK RACING will become a serious contender for the Russian team. In 2018 and 2020, he became the fifth in the overall and probably expects to take a step forward. Moreover, there is his father’s example before his eyes – the fourth place in the general classification-2010. According to the pilot, in conditions of total cancellation of races due to the coronavirus, training behind the wheel of the truck, which the team calls Karel, was not enough for him, but the task is ambitious – a prize place. The main change in IVECO was installation of an automatic gear box, and now the truck goes much faster than before. Also, the shark in yellow livery “lost weight” by several tens of kilograms and got an improved chassis.
Another representative of the Dakar dynasty is Ales Loprais from INSTAFOREX LOPRAIS PRAGA. The nephew of the legendary Karel Loprais, who has raised the Golden Bedouin six times over his head, dreams of his first victory at the Dakar or a repetition of third place in 2007. And he will celebrate his 41st birthday on Praga V4S Dakar truck at the 15th race in his career. Loprais became the sixth last January on it, but over the last year the sports truck has undergone a number of changes, but the details of the tuning are carefully kept in secret. For the first time since the Dakar in 2014, the team applied two crews. Thereat, the second will be a clone of “Prague” Tatra Queen 69 with Jan Tomanek in the cab, playing the role of a fast assistance.
The Belarusian MAZ-SPORTauto team has reduced its representatives at the Dakar from three to two sports crews. Despite the losses, Siarhei Viazovich, who climbed the podium twice in 2018 and 2020, is preparing to at least repeat his achievement. And Aliaksei Vishneuski will help him to solve the tasks set for the race. He will go to the start on a new bonnet truck.
Despite the big names, the rally organizers did not see the Dutch Gerard de Rooy in the entry lists. And if the two-time Dakar winner (the only one who could interrupt the KAMAZ-master trophy series in South America) missed last year due to a back injury, but delivered his team to the start, then this time at the bivouac there will be no representatives of PETRONAS TEAM DE ROOY IVECO.
But another Dutchman surprised to the upside. Martin van den Brink came to the Dakar for the third time with his son, but for the first time he will not sit in the same truck with him. Having gained the necessary experience as a mechanic of his father, 18-year-old Mitchel will make his debut as a pilot .. Throughout 2020, the Mammoet Rallysport team was busy building a new truck – Martin replaced the bonnet version of Renault with a factory cabover Renault C460 from the Czech company MKR Technology, and Mitchell will try to cross the finish line in Jeddah on VOLVO.
“It is important for us to get to the finish line, because we perform as an assistance truck for my father’s crew and carry necessary parts. In addition, it is important to drive the entire race, it will give me experience. At the same time, we will try to be as close to the leader of our team as possible,” – shared his expectations the younger van den Brink.
As last year, the Riwald Dakar Team continues to “cut the window to the green future” by applying Renault Trucks C460 Hybrid Edition at the Dakar. Externally, the truck is a copy of Martin van den Brink’s truck, but the most important thing is hidden inside. Changes to the truck of 2020 have allowed Gert Huzink’s crew to make use of the electric engine power at high rpm range even better. Also, MKR Technology‘s designers have optimized the truck’s weight distribution by relocating the hybrid battery that enhanced comfort in the cabin. As Huzink himself says, the work done by the engineers allows him to believe in rivalry with KAMAZ-master.
Also, let’s not forget about “dark horses“. After all, the Dakar is not just a trip from point A to point B, but the hardest marathon with a lot of the most unexpected surprises, from which no contestant is insured.
At the presentation of the Dakar 2021 route, the project director David Castera said: “We often hear that participation in the Dakar is already a victory itself. And this feeling will inspire everyone at the start on January 3.“