Sakaka – Neom: reachning to the sea

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The eighth stage of the Dakar Rally 2021 in Saudi Arabia was held along the route Sakaka - Neom on Monday, January 11.

The first part of the marathon stage for the sports crews of KAMAZ-master team ended positively. The main result of yesterday was the state of vehicles: all four trucks reached the closed bivouac without breakdowns or damage. Thus, the crew members carried repair works on their vehicles and went to rest. The result also cheered up: first, second, third and fifth places at the end of the seventh stage, as well as strengthening the leading positions in the general standings of the truck classification.  

The table clearly shows a serious advantage of Dmitry Sotnikov over the Ales Loprais, going fourth. It will not be easy for the Czech to win back more than 80 minutes driving (and in front of him there are also Anton Shibalov and Airat Mardeev). However, this is Dakar, and any relaxation for the remaining stages is out of the question. The marathon conditions are extremely tricky, no one knows what awaits the racers ahead when crossing razor-sharp stones or storming dangerous dunes that hide a sharp cliff behind their ridge.  

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The slightest mistake by the crew or a non-standard situation on the track threatens to leave the vehicle in captivity of the desert, and slipping away minutes risk to turn into long hours of repair and putting an end to the struggle for the Golden Bedouin. These words were confirmed by the Argentinean Nicolas Cavigliasso: after the first half of the Dakar, the quad leader was 33 minutes ahead of the nearest rival, but 100 km before the finish of the first marathon stage clutch problems made him to withdraw.

Despite the tight schedule, sometimes the athletes have time to get acquainted with what  happens around the bivouac (without the opportunity to leave the closed territory), to study the place where the rally-marathon again has thrown them. The city of Sakaka, surrounded on all sides by the Great Al-Nefud Desert, has become the most northern point at the Middle East Dakar, after moving from South America, passing in Saudi Arabia for the second time. The history of this place goes back far into the past: the first people stayed here more than 6,000 years ago and left structures of 50 huge stone columns, called Al-Rajajil. These ancient structures, resembling British Stonehenge, were used to observe stars.

Those, who definitely do not need to build their way according to the heavenly bodies from point A to point B, are the Dakar contestants. When passing the route set by the organizers, modern navigators are guided by the road book, which this year became electronic for the first time. Navigational experience and the ability to find the correct course on the bindings on the eighth special stage of the rally became an important condition for successful completion of the racing distance. The 375-kilometer special section, which was included into the 709-kilometer leg, was rich in a large number of dried-up riverbeds, canyons and rock formations. Along with the start of the truck category after cars, the complexity was added by thick dust and numerous tracks, that misdirected the chasers from the right way.

KAMAZ trucks of Dmitry Sotnikov, Airat Mardeev and Anton Shibalov were to play the role of the route openers in their category. The result, achieved in the previous 7 days of the race, allowed the Russians to avoid unnecessary risks and drive along the distance at their own pace. In such situation, the ones had to attack  were contestants behind them in the general classification. Including Andrey Karginov, from the start and up to 161 km ahead of Aliaksei Vishneuski by a few seconds. Later, the Belarusian took the lead and held it up to the 310th km, until he stopped in a mountain valley and lost about 6 minutes. The failure was used by KAMAZ-master crews.

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Online results of the final race part made many fans nervous. The time of passing waypoints was not displayed in the Dakar table, and they had to guess whether the crews took the 336 km waypoint or not. And when it became clear that it was just a technical error, came the moment of happiness for the team from Naberezhnye Chelny that took the entire podium at the end of the stage for the third time in a row.

Dmitry Sotnikov was the first to cross the finish line in a stunningly beautiful valley that stretched along the mountain range. Anton Shibalov, Airat Mardeev and Andrey Karginov completed the special stage after him. Shibalov’s crew became the winner of the stage – 3 hours 19 minutes 40 seconds. Trucks No 500 and No 507 lost more than two minutes to their compatriots.

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Dmitry Sotnikov, pilot of crew No 507

Dmitry Sotnikov, pilot of crew No 507: The special stage was fast, we showed quite a good average speed. We started almost immediately behind the buggy and quickly caught up with them. The rocky and winding route with many dangers made it difficult to overtake in the first half, so we tried to drive very carefully. After neutralization zone we drove into the canyons, the terrain was not too rocky, but sandy. At the end there was a complicated navigation, tracks from cars went in various directions, but we did not pay attention to them, we went strictly according to the set course. And this was good, because we saw many contestants, coming back and looking for the missed points.”  

Vishneuski became the fourth, losing almost 8 minutes. Fifth place was the best in the career of Ignasio Casale behind the wheel of a truck. Let us remind you that the three-time Dakar winner changed the category this year. Ales Loprais finished sixth and was 45 seconds ahead of Mardeev.  

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Eduard Nikolaev, deputy team leader of KAMAZ-master at the Dakar 2021

Eduard Nikolaev, deputy team leader of KAMAZ-master at the Dakar 2021: These two days were heart pounding. Yesterday we did not meet the guys at the finish line, and today we did not see them off to the start. Of course, we worried about them. But they did a great job, coped with the task, and once again showed preparation of our vehicles for the Dakar and the marathon stage. I am glad that the trucks coped with challenging conditions. I would like to say a big thank you to the team’s mechanics for preparing the trucks, pilots and navigators – for faultless actions on the route. Yes, there was a loss of time due to wheel punctures, but all the crews face it, some even more than us. The guys took a good pace from the start, kept a tight group. Airat lost a little time due to a wheel change. Anton made us happy by winning the special stage. We are very pleased with this day, we are happy that everyone returned to the bivouac with a good result. There are 4 days left before the end of the race, we have to prepare trucks and reach the finish of the Dakar. Ales Loprais improved in comparison with previous years, he has a high pace. Although Aliaksei Vishneuski drives alone, in some areas it can be difficult to catch up with him. You can see that experience is growing. It is good that rivalry at the Dakar is at a high level. The competitors are very strong and powerful, at the finish line the trucks are often separated by seconds.”  

On Tuesday, the rally caravan is awaited by a loop stage in Neom with a start on the Red Sea coast. Its length will be 579 km, 465 km of which will be SS.

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Truck category. Ranking of the 8th stage. Top-10

Pos.NameMakeTimeGap
1501Anton SHIBALOVKAMAZ03:19:4000:00:00
2500Andrey KARGINOVKAMAZ03:21:5900:02:19
3507Dmitry SOTNIKOVKAMAZ03:22:0800:02:28
4505Aliaksei VISHNEUSKIMAZ03:27:3400:07:54
5517Ignasio CASALETATRA03:28:5300:09:13
6504Ales LOPRAISPRAGA03:29:3200:09:52
7509Airat MARDEEVKAMAZ03:30:1700:10:37
8503Martin MACIKIVECO03:31:5300:12:13
9514Martin SOLTYSTATRA03:32:2300:12:43
10506Martin VAN DEN BRINKRENAULT03:32:5200:13:12

Truck category. General classification after the 8th stage. Top-10

Pos.NameMakeTimeGap
1507Dmitry SOTNIKOVKAMAZ32:34:1800:00:00
2501Anton SHIBALOVKAMAZ33:17:4600:43:28
3509Airat MARDEEVKAMAZ33:47:3301:13:15
4504Ales LOPRAISPRAGA34:03:2901:29:11
5503Martin MACIKIVECO34:26:0401:51:46
6505Aliaksei VISHNEUSKIMAZ34:26:1401:51:56
7500Andrey KARGINOVKAMAZ35:10:1302:35:55
8506Martin VAN DEN BRINKRENAULT35:15:3702:41:19
9517Ignasio CASALETATRA35:17:5902:43:41
10514Martin SOLTYSTATRA35:43:1203:08:54

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