A multi-day marathon is a test not for everyone, and still every year hundreds of racers come to try their hand at the legendary Dakar. But not all contestants withstand the devastating stress on the organism and incredible psychological pressure during passage of a special stage. It also refers to vehicles that cannot cope with severe conditions of the Arabian Peninsula. More than 700 km of off-road special stages with a huge amount of stones and dunes as high as ten-story buildings left the first riders and drivers out of the race.
Losses did not pass by the truck category as well. At the 50 km of the second special stage, Dutch crew of Gert Huzink faced a serious problem – his hybrid off-road truck stopped due to the engine breakdown. The driver requested evacuation and moved to the category Dakar Experience (results of these contestants do not go to the general classification). However, later it became clear that repair of such a unique power unit by efforts of the team’s mechanics was not possible in Saudi Arabia. Huzink did not already enter the start of the first loop stage.
It is interesting that a year ago Wadi Ad-Dawasir – a place in the south-west of Saudi Arabia, in hundreds of kilometers from the capital of the kingdom Riyadh – opened the way to the rally caravan to the northern border of the Rub al-Khali desert, stretching for 1200 km along the Arabian Peninsula and being one of the largest in the world. Now the direction of the stage, like the entire Dakar, has changed in the opposite direction. If you look at the route map of the special stage, it has undergone a serious change. However, the organizers were right saying that the 2021 race will take place almost on entirely new “roads“.
Like yesterday, the start of the special stage was mixed. Dmitry Sotnikov was the first from his category to drive the hardest 403 km. Airat Mardeev and Siarhei Viazovich entered the distance right after him. The rest representatives of the truck category stretched out in the starting protocol and mixed with cars. The first kilometers of the special stage on the fast sandy plateau gave the started first crews the opportunity to earn an additional time advantage over the rivals, for whom the struggle with high traffic and thick dust came to the fore.
The track of the route already at the 17 km led the racers into a sandy canyon with large stones. An important signal at today’s stage from the organizers was the utmost attentiveness when driving through such areas and navigation. Strong winds quickly covered tracks, adding work to the navigators. And here the ability to find bindings in the area and choose the right course came to the fore. Soft surface of the track, gradually gaining altitude from 800 to 1200 m above sea level and passing through the Wajid plateau, also affected fuel consumption.
A beautiful struggle for the result started from the first kilometers. The multi-ton trucks of Sotnikov and Viazovich were separated by a few seconds at each waypoint. The first half of the distance was shown by the overall leader, after which Anton Shibalov joined the fight. The Belarusian driver seized the initiative in the middle of the special stage – at the 262 km mark his MAZ was ahead of Sotnikov’s KAMAZ by 4 seconds. Already at 354 km, the Russian won 5 seconds over the rival, but at the finish he still lost 18 seconds. The time of the stage winner was 3 hours 45 minutes 14 seconds. But the Dutchman Maurik van den Heuvel, who started the seventh Dakar in his career, had a bad luck – his Scania rolled onto the roof on one of the dunes.
Dmitry Sotnikov, pilot of crew No 507: “The section was similar to the previous one in terms of its coverage. The first part, before the neutralization zone, was packed with dune sections from L1 to L3. I remember dunes that were at a different angle to the sun – visibility was poor, and the dunes were very steep. In such a situation there was a danger not to notice an edge. Just on one of these dunes a truck with number 519 overturned. The second half of the stage was not easy for navigation, there were many straight tracks. At the speed of 140 kmh, an error of 500 meters could be crusial. We tried to drive carefully, get into the canal as accurately as possible. There were many traces, including which we had to navigate. The ending turned out to be trial with winding channels. We saw a lot of crashed cars, so we decided not to risk it and chose a reliable finish.“
At the beginning of the distance Shibalov’s crew spent a little time on the dune – the quad of one of the contestants, standing behind the ridge, became a hindrance. The multi-ton KAMAZ managed to stop at the last moment. This hitch did not prevent the silver prize-holder of the Dakar 2020 from continuing to fight for victory at the stage. At the finish, the representative of the KAMAZ-master team was the third, losing 1 minute 16 seconds.
Anton Shibalov, pilot of crew No 501: “The whole day passed smoothly, except for one nuance. In the first part of the special stage, an emergency occurred, fortunately, we managed to avoid a crash. We were overtaking a dune after a buggy and it stopped shortly before the quad, standing after the ridge. It’s a good thing that we managed to brake at the very top. We lowered the wheels, went back and continued to move. We drove about 300 kilometers with a punctured wheel on pumping and safely reached the finish line.”
Andrey Karginov can also take this sports day into his account. Today, the two-time Dakar winner was not distracted by technical problems, that haunted him for the first two days, and demonstrated stable driving. Crew No 500 could also claim to win the special stage, but a small navigation mistake at the end of the special stage costed him precious minutes. As a result – the fifth place with a lag of 3 minutes 28 seconds. The Czech Martin Macik on Iveco was one position higher, for whom this Dakar started very well. Another Belarusian Aliaksei Vishneuski finished just 29 seconds behind Karginov.
Airat Mardeev punctured a wheel in the area of 30 km and did not waste time to replace it, since the tire inflation system coped well to the very finish line. At the same time, in the interval between 137 and 183 km, the crew lost about seven minutes due to an error in navigation. As a result, the crew finished with a 10-minute lag.
Airat Mardeev, pilot of crew No 509: “We took a good pace from the very beginning. We went round a little in front of one of the dunes, Viazovich caught up with us. We caught on him, began to drive closer, won back our position, but made a mistake in navigation: we had to go back about 4 km to take the point. We lost about seven minutes on it. We let Vishneuski ahead, then attacked him and got ahead. Then we drove at our own pace, did not risk on the stone sections, where one might puncture a wheel. We thought it was better to drive carefully than waste more time. We continue to fight.”
The density of the results is evidenced by the fact that the first and tenth places were divided by only 15 minutes 44 seconds, and the newcomer behind the wheel of a truck, the Chilean Ignasio Casale and the Czech Jaroslav Valtr showed identical time. Another debutant, Mitchel van den Brink, is worth of special mention. The 18-year-old son of the well-known and experienced Dutch Martin van den Brink takes part as a driver for the first time and although cannot still boast of a high result, but he is already ahead of some more sophisticated rally-raid colleagues.
On Wednesday, the Dakar contestants will have the longest route of the entire race – taking into account the liaison, its distance will be 813 km, 337 km of which will be special. On the way to the capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, racers will have to focus on skillful driving, because the winding paths leading to the northeast of the country are fraught with many surprises.
Truck category. Ranking of the 3rd stage. Top-10
Truck category. General classification after the 3rd stage. Top-10
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