Kalina: the victory formula
A four times winner of the Dakar, co-pilot Josef Kalina, 62 years old, has been recalled to the race by the Loprais clan to assist Ales in the Tatra truck that hopes to challenge the Kamaz vehicles. The rebellion started in Arica, with an already historic stage victory for the Czechs.
Since his beginnings as a driver, Ales Loprais has a fixed goal to which he devotes all his energy: winning the Dakar. Brought up in the world of trucks in a family that spent many of its winters on the bivouacs of the rally, the heir of the dynasty currently occupies third place in the general standings. But this year, in the cab, a last minute recruit was hired to make up for the withdrawal of his usual navigator. The idea came from Milan, Ales's father, who called on Josef Kalina, a four times winner of the Dakar as a co-pilot during the era of Karel Loprais's domination: "I've known Ales since he was a child and he considers me to be like an uncle, so I thought it was a good idea. The aim is to pass on my experience to him and for the moment he is listening to my advice, even though he is a bit of a wild man," explains this top of the range substitute.
Whilst Josef Kalina continued to participate in the rally in slower trucks or as a team manager, his participation with Ales Loprais represents a genuine return to the top level since his last victory with Karel during the 2001 edition. For this 62 year old, adapting to racing again is tough: "It's not a game for old men, truck driving at this pace. You're shaken all over the place for hours on end and it's physically exhausting. I used to play ice hockey and after each special, it feels like I've just finished a match. In comparison, cars are like children's toys". Despite his modesty, Josef seems to have made a major contribution to the smooth running of the Tatra belonging to Ales, who is amazed by the behaviour of his racing partner: "It's incredible what he is able to do at his age. Imagine if everyone could handle that, carrying out precision work right throughout the specials".As a regular on the first step of the podium, Kalina can lay claim to a record that has stood for the last 17 years and which is still one of his best memories: "In 1994, during the Paris-Dakar-Paris, we won the category with the 6th best overall time, including the cars as well".
The senior member of crew 504 thus experienced a time when Tatra dominated the rest of the field. The former domination of the Czech trucks has now been taken over by the reign of the Kamaz team, which won 24 consecutive stages on the Dakar. However, this series was brought to a sudden halt in Arica by Ales Loprais, whose perseverance was rewarded with a second special stage victory, 4 years after his first triumph in Tambacounda. This success hardly changes the race situation, but Kalina cannot prevent himself for hoping the trend is bucked: "We always race to win, even at the age of 62. The Kamaz team is extremely professional, much more so than us, since we all have professions outside racing. They have the total support of a powerful constructor and as a result they have all the trump cards. But we were able to stop their series of wins. Already in Iquique, we would've won if we hadn't got a flat tyre, and in Arica we managed to come out on top. Now that we've won once, that might throw a spanner in their works, because perhaps there may be a psychological weakness in the Russian temperament". A speech that will delight the ambitious Ales Loprais!