TRUCK RACE: WHO CAN BEAT "BIG BLUE"?
Vladimir Chagin placed the bar very high: winner of his sixth Dakar in 2010, he also won 9 of 13 special stages, taking his career total to 56. Meanwhile, his team mates made sure Kamaz ran the table in setting best time on the rest of the timed sectors. Once again, the odds on favourite in the Personal Dakar Argentina Chile, the Russian will have to defend his title against an array of stout competitors.
Following a serious testing crash at the Clermont-Ferrand training centre the number 500 truck had to be rushed back to Naberezhnye Chelny (Republic of Tatarstan, Russia) before being air freighted to Argentina, instead of a leisurely crossing of the Atlantic by ship. Despite it all, Vladimir Chagin is still the man to beat in the truck category. And the idea of a seventh title, which would see him to the top of the all-time win list is something the "Tsar of all deserts", would very much like to accomplish. But in the Kamaz team, the statutes have evolved through circumstances. The second driver in the team, Firadus Kabirov has, on two occasions, shown to be enough of an opportunist to save the team's honour (2005 and 2009). Now, everyone knows of the "Junior Tsar's" talent, capable of changing the hierarchy in the big blue truck squad. Promising 26-year old Edouard Nikolaev, who sat next to Chagin last year, has completed his apprenticeship: in September he won the Silk Way Rally and will now drive his own truck for the first time on the Dakar.
But the Kamaz domination shouldn't over shadow the competition, which is well decided to fight back. The return of Gerard De Rooy, who has been sidelined due to injuries suffered on the 2009 Silk Way, will be the decisive parameter in the category. The Dutchman is chomping at the bit to take on and defeat the Russian contingent. The son of Jan De Rooy has had time to train Spain's Pep Vila in the Dutch mode. The third Iveco in the team will be driven by Hugo Duisters.
No less ambitious, Czech driver Ales Loprais continues his quest and sees himself as the defender of uncle Karel's record, who is tied with Chagin for most wins. The Tatra driver has brought in Josef Kalina, who sat alongside Karel during his historic run of victories in the 1990's, as the third man in the cabin. Podium spots are also in the sights of those drivers who haven't been front runners as much, but who are capable of strong performances. One example is Marcel Van Vliet (MAN), third in 2010 or Wulfert Van Ginkel (GINAF) and to a lesser extent the Sugawara family, who will be back in 2011 with two Hino trucks.