TRUCK RACING

The Dakar Experience

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Road Ahead editor Gregory Simpson was treated to some high octane thrills and spills recently at the Tested by Dakar Experience just outside of Johannesburg, where the almighty Iveco Trakker 507 Dakar spec truck was unleashed for the first time.

The truck is close replica of the beast that 2012 champion Gerard De Rooy will be lining up in for this year’s event in South America, and packs an almighty punch, with 1000 horse power on tap for those who dare.

The good people at Iveco where dying to show-off their Dakar pedigree to the South African media, but getting hands on De Rooy’s vehicle is near impossible, given the tight schedule that the racing team keeps, with warm-up rallies taking centre stage – the recent Rally of Morocco being a prime example.

As a result, Iveco South Africa decided to get one of their standard trucks fully modified up to Dakar Spec by LA Sport in Pretoria, to over 650kw of mountain moving power that gets up in your face at any opportunity.

There was no rush to take up offers of a test drive at first, with the normal bullish journalists taking a backward step in the face of raw power at the ADA training centre, which boasts some nice jumps for the mega truck to show off over.

The acceleration and handling of the vehicle is something to behold, and is able to power slide into a handbrake turn without a hint of under steer.

And Iveco’s rally team will be hoping to use all of that power to nudge ahead of overall winners from Russia, in the Kamaz Truck, which is always hard to beat, with De Rooy finishing a close fourth in last year’s Dakar, with late punctures costing him first prize and a place in history again.

The no-nonsense De Rooy told Gregory Simpson what it will take to beat the Russians, “Luck. From both sides, the trucks are very reliable, the drivers are all good. Last year there was only a three minute difference after two weeks of racing, it is amazing. We were driving 500km per day, and 15 seconds difference! I really like close racing, but f***,” sighs the hard man from Eindhoven, who wear his heart on his sleeve.

“When my father won in 1987, he won by 12 hours, but now everybody is on the same level. As soon as you don’t have your logistics, navigation just right you’ll fall behind. So teamwork is very important, you need everybody working together.

“The biggest difference between Kamaz and me is, I want to win, and the Russians, they get a phone call from Putin saying, ‘you need to win for the country, or you go to Siberia’” he jokes.

Following political instability over the past few years, the Dakar has found a solid home in South America, but De Rooy still prefers the more rugged, on the edge of your seat racing that only Africa can promise, with approximately 90% of the new Dakar run on some kind of pre-existing gravel road.

De Rooy continues, “The rally belongs in Africa, in Mauritania and Morocco. Morocco is a very hard country, with a lot of stones that can break a car in three days. But it’s not possible anymore. The sponsors prefer for the event to be held in South America. If I had to ask for sponsorship money for a race in Africa, I’d get 10% of what I would get from racing the Dakar in South America. Do you have any idea how many VW Touaregs they sold there after the last race? Lots. South America is a 20 times bigger market than Africa.”

“In the ‘Africa times’ it was more the spirit of the Dakar, now it has become more commercial. It’s still a good race, and enjoyed the dunes of Peru - with nice people. The people of Chile are less enthusiastic but the surface is good,” he concludes.

In general, I was very impressed with the build quality of the standard Eurocargo truck and Daily 4x4 that was also launched at the event, which is perfectly built for harsh African Conditions. The dashboard is void of some of the fancy gizmos that have crept into most modern trucks, and I’m happy with that. A nice clean dashboard without GPS is a refreshing thing to see, and will result in less electrical problems down the line if you are trashing this down potholed roads every day to your favourite mine shaft and back.

The top of the range Iveco Hi-Way Stralis was the belle of the ball, and is a thing of beauty inside and out, and is arguably the most luxurious euro cab going at the moment, and little wonder that it was voted truck of the year in Europe last year.

Gregory Simpson

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