➢ The domination of the Kamaz team continued in 2018 with the third victory for Eduard Nikolaev, despite the unsuccessful attacks of Fernando Villagra.
➢ But among the 41 trucks expected at the start in Lima, Team De Rooy will be stronger with the return of Gerard De Roy to the Dakar.
➢ The duel between the two favourite teams for the title could for example become a bigger skirmish thanks to Czech drivers Martin Macik, Ales Loprais and Martin Kolomy as well as the Belarussian Maz team.
The photo of the Córdoba podium last January had a “déjà vu” feeling about it, and for a good reason. Eduard Nikolaev had just won his second consecutive Dakar, and third overall in a category massively dominated by Kamaz with 15 titles in 22 years (8/10 in South America). The collective Russian celebration, with drivers tossed into the air and the deployment of the nation’s flag, was nevertheless a relief after a huge scare in the waning days of the rally. The young “Tsar” who is following in the tracks of Vladimir Chagin had a mere one second lead at the start of the penultimate special stage from Argentina’s Federico Villagra, who came to a dead stop with a mechanical problem as he was envisaging a triumph on home soil. The disappointing episode has been digested by the Argentineans and this time Team De Rooy, the only squad to contest the supremacy of the Blue Armada in the last decade, is entering a complete line-up. Following a pause in 2018, two-time truck class winner Gerard De Rooy (2012 and 2016) returns with lofty ambitions. And in addition to his Argentinean partner in crime, the boss will also be able to count on Ton van Genugten, who is now a serious threat after winning four stages on the last Dakar.
The most direct threat is therefore clearly identified for Kamaz, where we also have to observe in detail a densification of competition at the highest level. In the 2018 general classification, it was their Belarussian “cousins” from Maz who followed Nikolaev, with Siarhey Viazovich on the second step of the podium at a reasonable distance of four hours. But appetites have continued to grow in the meantime, with 29-year-old Martin Macik (Big Shock Racing), who represents the future of the discipline and who intends to continue to improve after finishing in the Top 5 for the first time in 2018. Divided into several bands, the Czech clan is also counting on Ales Loprais (Instaforex Loprais Team) or Martin Kolomy (Tatra Buggyra Racing) to succeed their shared mentor, Karel Loprais, who scored the last of his six titles in 2001. And finally, The Netherlands remains the best represented nation in the category with 10 trucks having a credible shot at a strong result. The best of the Dutch bunch are Martin Van den Brink at Mammoet Rallysport, Gert Huzink with Riwald and Gerrit Zuurmond in his Rainbow Truck.
In the future, this may be Ford's goal, which is making its debut as a factory constructor with two trucks, entrusted to Belgian drivers Peter Van Delm and Yves Rutten. In the meantime, they could give the Sugawara family run Hino a run for its money in the under 10-litre class.
Source: ASO / Dakar press release
Cover photo: Eric Vargiolu / DPPI