The landscape in the truck category has been transformed by the retirements of Chagin and Kabirov, who between them had won nine of the last eleven editions. Whilst their usual challengers can take heart from this new situation, the Kamaz drivers remain favourites for victory, with up-and-coming drivers ready to take up the reins.
It can happen that time suddenly catches up with you. Less than a year ago, on the podium in Buenos Aires, the Kamaz team was celebrating its tenth victory on the Dakar and the seventh record-breaking triumph for Vladimir Chagin. And as if that was not enough, four Russian trucks occupied the four first places in the general standings, after having won 12 of the 13 stages on the programme! Several weeks later, the Tsar announced his retirement, choosing to devote his time to managing the team which is now looking toward the younger generation. In the meantime, Firdaus Kabirov (winner in 2005 and 2009) also decided to depart the cab for good, leaving the responsibility for triumph on the tracks to the two up-and-coming Kamaz drivers, Eduard Nikolaev and Ayrat Mardeev (junior), whose mission will be to continue the blue trucks’ domination of the rally.
“If it wasn’t for Kamaz, I would have won!” points out Franz Echter, 5th in 2011, taking note of the changes that have occurred in the category this year. Behind the wheel of his Man truck, the German driver can stake a claim as a genuine pretender for the title, but he is not the only one on this list. This is perhaps the year where perseverance could reap rewards for Gerard De Rooy, following two editions in which he was not able to defend his chances. His Iveco truck, with a look reminiscent of French film Salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear), seems to have what it takes to challenge the Kamaz team. What’s more, team De Rooy has been enhanced by the arrival of two key elements, namely Hans Stacey, winner of the Dakar in 2007, and Miki Biasion, two times world rally champion and a recent winner of the Rally of Morocco. The Dutch/Italian armada seems well prepared to throw a spanner in the works of any other team on the event.
However, to date, the biggest thorn in the side of the Kamaz team has been Ales Loprais. On the Dakar in 2011, he accomplished an initial objective by winning the special stage in Arica, bringing a halt to a series of 24 consecutive stages won by the Russian team. What’s more, during the month of July, it was in Russia that the heir of Karel Loprais won his first major international race. The winner of the Silk Way Rally intends to go one step further with his Tatra truck, but he will have to go the distance, right up until Lima, and resist the constant pressure exerted by his rivals.