Can you outline the major steps in your career as a pilot of rally trucks? Where and when did you start competing in motorsport and driving a rally truck?
It all started from early age of 5 or 6 when I started with motorbike, did some small races, then I sit into an off-road car of my father. He was off-roading a lot and in 2002 we went to see Dakar Rally in Senegal. There my father decided to go to Dakar year after with an old LIAZ truck which was competing in past. I was 13 years old but got it from first hand from that moment. I didn’t do much in racing until I was 20, in 2009 when I navigated my father in truck whole year except of Dakar (Silk Way Rally, Baja Aragon, Hungarian Baja). First university, then Dakar, father said. So, I graduated and started as a navigator in 2013 and 2014. After getting along and knowing what to do I started on my own with support of my father in 2015 behind the steering wheel.
How do you compare the Dakar in South America with the Dakar in Saudi Arabia? Was this year rally more difficult or less difficult than last year race? Why?
The biggest difference were people. In America there is so many fans around the track, cheering for you all day long doesn’t matter what’s you position. In Saudi you don’t see many of them. Comparing the route of Dakar, its completely different world and nature, so it’s hard to compare really. Saudi got all types of terrain every stage except of Empty Quarter. And about the difficulty? This year was definitely the hardest one in Saudi and I believe one of the hardest in whole Dakar history thanks to long distances every day, the Chrono 48 stage and the annoying dust.
Can you describe, in some detail, the story of your Dakar this year? What about the main turning point/points of this year’s rally? When were you confident of winning the race?
You are never confident you going to win. The turning points were stage 5 and 6. Dunes of Empty Quarter started with 120 km stage where we had to get back for the fight because we were losing about 45 min to the lead. So, I did manage to get back over 30 min. and we could start to Chrono 48 (Stage 6) from the first place. Which is actually not an advantage but we made it from it. Chrono 48 was 2 days stage of 570 km in dunes only, very demanding, hundreds of meters tall hills of sand only where everything was difficult. We started first finished first, slept in the middle of desert without any service knowing the standing or anything else and we finished first as well but with over an hour lead over the second one. That was unbelievable and from that moment I knew inside and most importantly I could believe in my truck in every kilometre of our journey. It worked like never before!
Who was the most challenging competitor this year? Ales Loprais? Mitchel van den Brink? Janus van Kasteren? Who else?
I would say Janus especially from the beginning. He won the stages, starting into no dust, that was very helpful and he is incredibly fast. But he didn’t do well in Chrono due to technical problems as well and we just jumped over everybody. Since that moment we were just looking on the rest how they were fighting between each other.
How can you describe your driving style? Are you aggressive, or a cool tactician?
I am what’s needed in the moment of the race. I drive with my head and don’t do crazy staff. I manage the truck to be able to go faster every kilometre and day to compete until the end of Dakar. Its cross country and navigational rally, you can be aggressive and win a stage but that won’t win you a Dakar. But of course, you must be fast, consistent and to have a great truck, which we have.
Where do you feel at your best as a rally pilot? On rocky stretches? Soft desert sand? Dunes? Narrow and windy routes?
I can’t actually say. Our truck is made for all of these terrains, but if I can choose something I go for rally style windy routes and technical terrain. But to succussed in Dakar, we need to have very difficult route, cause that’s where we shine the most.
Can you explain the role of your Iveco Powerstar in achieving this result? Was it reliable and high-performing, as you expected? How did you modify your Powerstar compared to last year’s truck? Are you using an automatic gearbox? Do you like it?
The truck I drive is called “Cenda”. It is our production, the MM Technology development. The engine is Iveco, gearbox is automatic Allison, really fun to drive even though I miss manual to play with the truck more. Our truck was 50% of our achievement thanks to high performance with reliability. It is very important. Almost everything is developed by us but as rules says we have to follow. This year we actually did only few changes on chassis set up and minor technical change elsewhere because it was a great truck already last year and we knew it. The biggest advantage of our truck is for sure the compactness of the whole truck with low weight balance and easy control. I just love it.
Can you tell us anything about your future projects?
We already build 8 trucks into the world and we are building new ones either for us or for our clients. We also maintain them to and competing in different rallies. That’s what we want to do, to move ahead and create the best rally trucks in the world.
by Gianenrico Griffini
Photos: MM Technology Team