Vladimir Chagin (1970- ), Russian ace racing trucker, team-leader of the KAMAZ-Master Team. He is a five-time winner of the Dakar Rally. Shall he repeat his performance this year? Or, shall last year’s winner, his teammate Firdaus Kabirov, take the gold? Only time shall tell us. This is clear… don’t mess with the bear and don’t mess with the best.
The Russian KAMAZ-Master Team, eightfold champions of the Dakar Rally, the most prestigious off-road race in the world, is ready for new victories. On 1 January, the Dakar 2010 Off-Road Rally shall kick off, and, for the second consecutive year, it will have a South American venue. The contestant’s vehicles shall have to overcome about 9,030 kilometres (5,611 miles) of desert and off-road tracks in Argentina and Chile and the organisers of the rally told the drivers not to rest on their laurels. In contrast to the route last year, the track this year is set more in the desert and mountains. For several years in a row, no one has been able to surpass the lads from KAMAZ. No matter what tactics they use or how much they soup up their vehicles, nobody beats the guys from the banks of the Kama River. Indeed, even when the rally moved from Africa to South America, where conditions are tougher, the KAMAZ lot was still in the lead at the end of the show. This leads us to ask whether there is a secret recipe for building a team that wins year after year.
Semyon Yakubov, the captain of the KAMAZ team, said, “All our team members start out with only one thought… that is, we’re going to win, and we’ll all do whatever it takes to do that. It’s never easy to deal with problems that crop up on the road, especially in the desert and in the mountains. Then, on top of that, you have to watch out for your rivals. There’s some tough competition out there, so, it looks like it’s going to be a tense race. Do we have any tricks up our sleeve? It’s a difficult route with many twists and turns, but what we’ll have to pull out of the hat is anyone’s guess. No matter how much you prepare for the Dakar, each one is different from the rest as different situations arise. That makes each race unique. So, when problems come up, everybody on the team pitches in to solve it. It all depends on the progress of the race. But, our guys have a lot of experience, so, I think that we’ll cope with any difficulty that arises. They’ll do what it takes; trust me on that. We’ve never had a Dakar where there were no serious problems”.
This time, three of our crews will start in Buenos Aires. Navigator Aidar Belyaev and mechanic Andrei Mokeyev are riding with the current champ in the truck category, Firdaus Kabirov. Another Dakar winner, Vladimir Chagin, is the driver for the second crew. However, the greatest burden, technical support, is on the shoulders of Ilgizar Mardeyev’s crew. This time, the Dakar is a tough challenge. The rally will open the jubilee celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the independence of Argentina and Chile. Very likely, the current race will be the last Dakar run in Latin America.
Coach Yakubov said, “Despite the interesting off-road course in South America and the wonderful hospitality of the local residents, the racers miss Africa and hope that we’ll be able to be there again next year. There’s every reason to believe that the Dakar will return to Africa. There are early reports that work is in progress, although there hasn’t been an official announcement yet. We really hope that the next race will be back in Africa. Is that good or bad? Well, we’ll go to America or Africa, whatever. We’ll even go to Australia; it’s all the same to us… that’s not a bad idea, either”.
The trucks of the KAMAZ-Master Team are now in Buenos Aires waiting for the starter’s flag. Their route was long and difficult, last month they went by freighter from the French port of Le Havre on the Atlantic. Today, in Argentina, they are waiting for their crews, for a 1 January start towards a new victory.
For the second year in a row, the Dakar Rally will take place in the open spaces of Argentina and Chile. It begins today in Buenos Aires. The cavalcade of contestants will circle the 67-metre-high (201 feet) obelisk in the centre of the city, a symbol of the Argentine capital. Competitors came from more than 50 countries to face the 9,030-kilometre (5,611 mile) course, of which about 5,000 kilometres (3,107 miles) comprise high-speed sections. On 17 January, the racers are due back in Buenos Aires for the finish. Russia’s KAMAZ-Master Team, eight-time victors in the contest, shall be amongst the contenders. Traditionally, it sends three crews, which, this year, includes such well-known Russian drivers as Firdaus Kabirov (the winner of the last Dakar), Vladimir Chagin, and Ilgizar Mardeyev. In 2008, terrorist threats cancelled the race in Africa was cancelled. However, organisers do not rule out a return to the Dark Continent, if the opportunity presents itself.
President Dmitri Medvedev (1965- ) gives an official farewell to the KAMAZ-Master Team in the Kremlin in Moscow before their departure for the 2010 Dakar Rally.
On Saturday, 2 January, the KAMAZ-Master Team was in the lead after the completion of the first stage of the Dakar 2010 Rally. Vladimir Chagin, five-time winner of the Rally, led at the end of the first high-speed special stage length of 251 kilometres (156 miles) with a time of 2 hours 35 minutes 47 seconds. Aleš Loprajs of the Czech Republic from the Tatra team took second place. Russian drivers Firdaus Kabirov and Ilgizar Mardeyev took third and fourth places, respectively.
In other rally news, an accident caused the death of at least one person and injured five others. The incident occurred on Saturday, 2 January, during the high-speed special stage on the route of the first phase near the Argentine settlement of Alpa Corral. German contestant Mirko Schultis’ off-road vehicle overshot a turn, went off the road, and crashed into a crowd of spectators who were standing in an unauthorised location. A spectator, 28-year-old Argentinean Natalia Sonia Gallardo, died. Schultis stated that he was dropping out of the competition. An Argentine court decided to close the case and not indict the German driver. The prosecutor for Rio Cuarto, Walter Guzman, said that he would not bring an action against the driver because the deceased woman was in an area closed to spectators. “This race requires special driving skills, unexpected situations can occur, and the woman was in an area closed to spectators, so, no one could predict that something of this sort could happen”, Sr Guzman said.
Russia strengthened its lead at the Dakar 2010 Rally. Following the completion of the second stage, crews of the KAMAZ-Master Team occupy the first two places in the truck category. First to charge across the finish line of the 355 kilometre (211 mile) high-speed section was the crew of five-time Dakar winner Vladimir Chagin. His time was 4 hours 35 minutes 7 seconds, being some three minutes ahead of his teammate, the winner of the 2009 Dakar, Firdaus Kabirov. In third was Brazilian Andre de Acevedo of the Tatra team, lagging them by about 15 minutes. The other Russian crew, led by Ilgizar Mardeyev, was in fourth. Although his truck has the duty of technical assistance to the other two Russian entrants, as he carries the team’s spare parts, in fact, his vehicle is in no way inferior to the main contenders for victory.
Ilgizar Mardeyev of the KAMAZ-Master Team
The captain of the KAMAZ team, Semyon Yakubov, said, “There is a fundamental difference in our Russian manner of building a team that is brilliant and as it should be. Our team has three drivers, equal in ability, in exactly the same sort of vehicle; we’re all the same. When we’re abroad, one crew primarily goes for the victory, the other, if it’s there, assists the first, and, if there’s a third, it carries all the spares. In case of any problems, the primary crew loses its opportunity to gain the prize. Moreover, we don’t have any ‘ringers’ on our Russian team, we only have our ordinary factory team drivers. We’re always training young talent, we choose the best of the young guys, we train them, paying great attention to their physical fitness. In addition, the technical training of our Russian crews differs from the methods used abroad. All of our crewmembers are graduates of good technical schools. We believe that anyone who sits behind the steering wheel must have a complete knowledge of motor vehicles. Everyone has to have the ability to repair our trucks, even in the darkness of night”.
Of course, any race has its risks and its incidents. This year, the organisers of the Dakar Rally proposed a very difficult route, for a large part of the course runs through one of the most arid areas on the planet, the Atacama Desert. In addition to the high sand dunes, the crews must overcome some very difficult sections. For example, in the second stage, the vehicles had to struggle to stay on a very slippery slope. It was narrow, mountain slopes were on every angle, and the turns were so sharp that the drivers had to turn the steering wheel almost in a complete circle, our Russian crews told us. Unfortunately, the complicated route is not only spectacular, but it is dangerous, as well. Because of accidents and breakdowns, several crews weren’t able to go the full distance. Russian crews have won in the truck category of the Dakar in six of the last seven rallies. Today, they are rushing to what seems yet another victory.
In the truck category, the Russian KAMAZ-Master Team is still in the lead at the Dakar 2010 Rally. On Monday, Vlad Chagin won the third stage of the race, making it a present for his 40th birthday (Vladimir Chagin was born on 5 January 1970). A five-time winner of the Dakar, this was his 50th victory in a stage during the race. On 4 January, he was the first in the 182-kilometre (113-mile) high-speed section in Argentina, ahead of his teammate Firdaus Kabirov by almost 12 minutes. After three stages, they occupy the first two places on the podium. Another Russian crew, headed by Ilgizar Mardeyev, is in fourth place.
According to Vlad Chagin, the shortest of all the 14 stages of the race was extremely difficult, for the winding mountain road was very dusty in some areas, and the heat was so extreme that the engine temperature reached 95 degrees C (203 degrees F), so, he had to stop to cool it down before he could proceed. In general, Russian racers win convincing victories at the rally due to the nature of the crews’ training. Vladimir Chagin said, with great emphasis, “We have a factory team with factory drivers. We don’t have a lot of crewmen; we’re a chosen few. We pick promising kids and we give them the proper training. We don’t have any ‘ringers’, everybody is trained by the factory. This allows you to instil in your people the proper attitude, and to give them the many other qualities that an athlete needs when he competes, especially in serious events. That’s what we put first”.
On Tuesday, during the fourth stage, in the middle of the route, the drivers crossed the border between Argentina and Chile. Then, the route shall pass through the Cordilleras, where the height of the mountains in some places is higher than 4,000 metres (13,123 feet) above sea level, and the descent on the Chilean side will lead them into the Atacama Desert.
At the start of the rally on 1 January, about 600 contestants from more than 50 countries driving motorcycles, ATVs, cars, and trucks began the course. After three stages, 16 crews have already withdrawn from the race due to equipment breakdowns, one of them being one of the most serious rivals of the Russians, the Czech Aleš Loprajs of the Tatra team.
At the end of the fourth stage of the Dakar 2010 Rally, all three crews of the KAMAZ-Master Team are in the top places in the truck category. On Wednesday, Erik Khairullin, a spokesman for the team, told ITAR-TASS, “Vladimir Chagin led the first of our crews to cross the finish line during the fourth stage, which ran from Fiambala to Copiapo for a total length of 629 kilometres (391 miles). In second was Firdaus Kabirov, behind Chagin by 7 minutes 44 seconds. The crew of Ilgizar Mardeyev was in third, 11 minutes 50 seconds behind”.
The racers had to struggle more as the path wore on. Brazilian driver de Acevedo of the Tatra team broke down on the road, so, he ended up losing third place. Now, the Dutch Zhinafy team is nipping at the heels of the Russians, as the Tatra team has suffered several equipment failures and had to drop out. In the overall results of the first four stages, the crew of Marcel Van Vliet is in third place. He lost to Chagin by 2 hours 24 minutes 33 seconds. Mardeyev’s crew had a point penalty for an infraction; he lost 60 minutes as a result and only made up some of it after a hard slog. In the overall standings, he now stands fourth, 2 hours 59 minutes 3 seconds after the leader.
Firdaus Kabirov (1961- ), winner of the 2009 Dakar Rally
Firdaus Kabirov said, “The fourth stage was much easier than the preceding one. We climbed very high, for in the first 20 kilometres (13 miles) we ascended to a height of up to 3,000 metres (9,843 feet). The Andes is one of the highest mountain ranges on Earth, reaching 6,960 metres (22,835 feet), it’s not easy driving there. Sometimes, it takes your breath away. You could go faster, but it’s risky. After the mountains, we crossed treacherous sand dunes three times, where it’s easy to roll over. At the top of a dune in a dust storm, we nearly crashed into a Volkswagen; we had to swerve to avoid him”.
The Russian KAMAZ-Master Team continues its triumphant march in the Dakar 2010 Rally. Vladimir Chagin won the first four stages. Firdaus Kabirov, his colleague and the driver of the second crew, was the best in the fifth stage of the competition. Thus, thanks to the success of the KAMAZ team, the overall lead in the rally belongs to Russia. Under the leadership of Firdaus Kabirov, the KAMAZ-Master Team completed the fifth stage in Chile on the route between Copiaco and Antofagasta, showing the best time, 5 hours 48 minutes 50 seconds. This was the first stage victory in the current Dakar for last year’s overall winner, and his 30th stage victory in the event. In third place, was the Frenchman Joseph Adua for Iveco, Ilgizar Mardeyev for KAMAZ finished fourth. Amongst passenger cars, too, there was a new leader, Mark Miller of Volkswagen. In the motorcycle category, the leader, Cyril Despres dropped to second, yielding to Chilean Francisco Lopez.
Although organisers promised a difficult course, for the Russian team, it didn’t prove problematic. However, to say how events will develop further is impossible. The next, and sixth, stage of the race is set for 7 January on the route Antofagasta-Icece, with a total length of 598 kilometres (372 miles), with 418 kilometres (260 miles) of high-speed roads.
On Thursday evening, at the end of the sixth stage of the race, in the truck category, Russian KAMAZ crews took the first three places. Vladimir Chagin showed the best time; Firdaus Kabirov and Ilgizar Mardeyev took second and third positions. In the overall standings, Chagin strengthened his advantage ahead of Kabirov at 38 minutes. This was five-time overall winner Chagin’s 52nd stage victory in the race. In the ATV rankings, the Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who drives for Volkswagen, was in the lead. In the motorcycle standings, the Spaniard Marc Coma was the top dog.
According to KAMAZ-Mater Team captain Semyon Yakubov, “Compared with last year, our trucks are almost identical in design. Nevertheless, we did make some technical modifications, and off-road running is a good way to test the durability of the vehicles. For example, the bumper on the trucks now consists of three parts connected by rubber shock absorbers. This is a very significant innovation, especially for our mechanics, as they have to adjust the bumper every evening. Well, there are a lot of little things like that. Certainly, what we learn under such extreme conditions serves as a basis for new developments in the Russian automobile industry. Moreover, the all-wheel drive KAMAZ vehicle is produced specifically for operation in extreme conditions”.
The next stage of the rally begins on 8 January. In the first segment, the drivers have to overcome small sand dunes, then, they will face the main test of the day, about three kilometres (@2 miles) of salt marsh, which require the crews to be alert and significantly reduces their speed. Most of the drivers are eager to get on the rapid and open gravel road towards the rest stop in Antofagasta. There they will rest until Sunday.
Here are some videos of the KAMAZ team:
28 December 2009 to 8 January 2010
Voice of Russia World Service