The toughest test of man and machine continues to fascinate drivers across the globe.
It’s the rally that unites competitors from across the globe, all keen to conquer the challenges of off-road racing in virtually all forms of motorised options, from bikes to quads, buggies to utes, and of course heavy trucks.
The DAKAR event owes its heritage to the 1970s where the route traversed Africa, subsequently relocating due to safety concerns for the competitors and spectators to challenge South America at the start of the 21st century.
For the 40th anniversary the route started in Peru, involving rolling sand dunes for the first five special stages. After Peru came Bolivia, where the extremes of weather and atmospheric conditions would pose the next set of problems to be overcome for the competitors.
For the last third of the event it was the turn of Argentina, where those remaining in the event from the 337 starters would all be aiming to reach Cordoba, the capital of Argentinean motorsport.
Age and experience counts for a lot in an endurance event, with Stephane Peterhansel having won the event 13 times since the start of his career 30 years ago. The fleet of Toyota HiLux utes led by Nasser Al-Attiyah would also be chasing a podium finish, aiming to beat the new Mini X-Raid buggies.
Australian Toby Price showed that ability and success is not a European prerogative, when he won the bike section in 2016 for KTM, returning this year despite surgery that involved replacing a rod in his leg after having broken his femur in four places in the 2017 event.
For PowerTorque readers the main interest of course is with the truck division. This year’s event attracted 44 truck entries, including IVECO, KAMAZ, MAZ, Renault, Hino, Mercedes-Benz and Scania. Although some of these makes were providing technical and mechanical support to teams rather than actually competing for line honours, the routes they all travelled to complete the course were very little different, and as times they had to be competitive to keep the support crews available in the right spot should their team mates need assistance.
By the time the contestants reached La Paz in Bolivia the Peruvian sand dunes had culled the numbers back to 110 bikes, 41 quads, 71 cars and 30 trucks.
The question of whether the KAMAZ trucks can be beaten is regularly asked on the DAKAR. On arrival in La Paz it would indeed have seemed the Russians might dominate the 2018 event, led by Eduard Nikolaev. The two-times winner had stamped his authority on the race, with three stage victories out of six, but for this year he was being chased by Federico Villagra on his tail (52 minutes behind). The Argentinean had won two special stages and was showing the sort of racing maturity that could witness him causing problems for the Russian rally leader.
At 500 km, the longest special of the 2018 DAKAR was also one of the hardest. Rain on the Bolivian Plateau and sections at altitudes exceeding 4800 metres made the challenge even more daunting.
The competitors had to contend with their own fatigue, as well as the wear and tear of their vehicles, after the rules of the marathon stage left them without assistance service the night before the start. Tough meteorological conditions (heavy rains), forced the organisers to cancel special stage nine, which was supposed to take place between Tupiza and Salta, leaving the field to transport to the Salta bivouac by road to resume stage ten from Salta to Belen.
Argentinean Federico Villagra had finished in the top two of eight out of ten special stages by the time the event hit La Rioja province, but it was the overwhelming dominance of Eduard Nikolayev and his KAMAZ that he had to beat in order to lead on home turf in Chilecito in the truck category. In the bike category, Australian Toby Price won this stage, beating Kevin Benavides and the other KTM rider, Antoine Meo.
For the arrival in San Juan after the longest special stage of 523 km there was just one second in the general standings between the KAMAZ driven by Eduard Nikolaev, the new leader, and the IVECO of Federico Villagra. After 7518 km since the start in Lima, this is an amazing example of the degree of competiveness facing the truck racers.
Eduard Nikolaev had started his eighth Dakar at one hell of a pace, and, with his amazing performance in the Peruvian dunes, the 2017 champion had opened up a strong lead over all his rivals, except for the tenacious Federico Villagra.
The Argentinean had been the only driver able to take the battle to the KAMAZ clan leader and had to grin and bear it during the first week, before putting the Russian under pressure as well as briefly taking the general standings lead from him.
Federico Villagra had struggled in the sand dunes of San Juan the day before the finish in Córdoba, his hometown. As he held second place in the general standings, just one second behind Eduard Nikolaev, Federico was leading the last special stage (and therefore the rally), when the gearbox on his IVECO Powerstar started to develop problems.
Sadly, for Villagra, the gearbox problem put paid to the IVECO driver’s hopes as he exited the race the day before the finish. With Federico Villagra no longer a threat on the last day, Eduard Nikolaev justifiably obtained his third title win behind the wheel of his KAMAZ.
In total, 191 vehicles completed the 40th event: 85 bikes, 32 quads, 49 cars including 6 SxS, and 25 trucks, meaning 55 percent of the competitors that set out from Lima two weeks earlier managed to reach the finish.
In the final stages on arrival at Cordoba in Argentina, Toby Price did his utmost to leave in his wake Kevin Benavides and his teammate and rally leader Matthias Walkner. In the final results, Toby Price finished in second place for the Red Bull KTM Factory Team, behind Kevin Benavides, and just 54 seconds short of the winner’s time separation of 1 hour, 26 minutes and 41 seconds, and 2 minutes and 49 seconds ahead of his KTM teammate Antoine Meo.
For the truck category the line honours went to Eduard Nikolaev in the KAMAZ Master (#500), some 3 hours, 57 minutes and 17 seconds ahead of Siarhei Vioazovich in the MAZ SportAuto (#512). Third place went to another KAMAZ Master (#507), this time driven by Airat Mardeev, with the Astana Motorsport Team De Rooy IVECO (#508) driven by Artur Ardavichus in fourth position, ahead of Martin Macik of Big Shock Racing (#510) followed in turn by Terhito Sugawara of Hino Team Sugawara (#511), 8 hours, 10 minutes and 16 seconds behind the winner. The second IVECO of the Petronas Team De Rooy (#509) finished in 8th position overall.
Hino Team Suguwara’s success in the DAKAR Rally is particularly noteworthy as it was a record ninth consecutive class victory in the 2018 event, scoring sixth place overall and first place in the under 10-litre category.
In the early stages of the rally, Hino Team Sugawara was left with only one of its two Hino 500 Series trucks due to a problem that forced Car 1 crewed by Yoshimasa Sugawara and Katsumi Hamura to withdraw from what was Mr. Yoshimasa Suguwara’s 35th straight start in the race.
The 2018 event was the 20th Dakar Rally for Teruhito Sugawara. His father Yochimasa, also known as the ‘Ironman of DAKAR’, was disappointed not to finish, but has already stated he will enter the rally again next year.
Both of the Hino DAKAR Rally 500 Series vehicles used an enhanced version of the Hino A09C six-cylinder engine, which is available as an option in the Hino 500 Series Wide Cab trucks in Australia.
Key specifications of the two 2018 DAKAR Rally Hino trucks include the 8866 cm3 direct-injection turbocharged and intercooled engine matched to a six-speed direct-drive gearbox with secondary transmission, two-speed transfer and a part-time all-wheel-drive (AWD) feature in Car 1, and full-time AWD in Car 2.
IVECO was also quick to celebrate the team success of placing two of its entries in the top 10 finalists of this year’s DAKAR, following on from wins of the DAKAR in 2012 and 2016 with Gerard de Rooy. This year it was the entries of Ton Van Genugten and Artur Ardavichus from Team PETRONAS De Rooy IVECO that both achieved placements in the Top 10. Dutch driver Van Genugten clocked three stage wins – including the last special of the rally – and finished in eighth place.
Teammate Artur Ardavichus delivered consistent performances throughout the rally, steadily rising in the classification to complete the DAKAR 2018 with a fourth place. This result follows his debut in Team PETRONAS De Rooy IVECO at the Silk Way 2017 rally, when he also won a fourth place.