The Dakar Rally edges closer.
It’s a rainy Tuesday in Vilnius and you are in a quarter of a million euros worth of gold-plated armoured truck and Lithuania is not a country you are supposed to be in with it. Well, you need it kept in a garage for a few days, no questions asked, while you pop down to Monaco. So who do you call? In a suit in the pouring rain, skipping a business meeting and breezing through the impenetrable Gumball security because he knows the boss, is Benedikas Vanagas. I trusted him to look after Goldzilla for me and now because he trusts me to drive one of his support cars on the Dakar you can get all the ‘inside’ Dakar reports.
Meeting Benedikas Vanagas
We first met a few years ago I the wilds of a Russian forest where he spent 10 days bashing his little Suzuki into the undergrowth in the Ladoga Trophy, which he won, and he doesn’t just dust his racesuit off once a year like many gentlemen drivers. When he’s not flying through the Baltic forests in his Subaru WRC, he’s on the track in a Porsche 997 with Sebastian Bleekamolen as his team mate, so it gets dry cleaned quite regularly. “All racing is relevant and useful experience for the Dakar because every kilometre you do on the limit, no matter what car you are in, is important because you are sharpening your reaction skills, learning something about reading the road ahead that will eventually become instinct.”
Attempt No. 3 at Dakar
2015 will be his third attempt at the world’s biggest motorsport event. In the first two he drove an Oscar (See what that is here...), but when his ambitions outgrew his machinery he needed to upgrade… and so now he’s the proud owner of an Overdrive Toyota Hi-Lux, the only car to worry the MINI drivers over the last two years. “It would be nice to get a MINI but you’ve either got to be Nasser Al-Attiyah or seriously rich to get in one.
For performance related to cost I think the Toyota is the best deal, even though only the four works cars have the new specifications with the spare wheels mounted behind the seats. This will make quite a positive difference in the handling but the car we have is definitely not too slow… and so the plan is to get into the Top 10.”
Every detail has to be right. Dakar is so tough and intense that you can’t have anything not working properly and that goes for driver, car and the team ... Even down to the number plates on the cars
On the face of it, 10th might not sound such a big ambition as most drivers you hear or read about only aim for the win and nothing else matters but fighting amongst the 2nd tier MINI drivers, new-spec Toyotas, factory-supported Peugeots a Gordini and an SMG or two over the 9000km, 13 day marathon is no mean feat… and one that some 50 or 60 other drivers will also be aiming for. It will not be easy.
Small team with big dreams
“We’re a small team without the budgets of the main guys but being small with the right attitude I think we can achieve big things… especially as we are all perfectionists.” And if the coiled poise of the Hi-Lux is not enough of a statement of intent sitting beside Benediktas in the co-driver’s seat will be Andrei Rudnitski who as Leonid Novitski’s team manager led him to the FIA Rally-Raid title as well as a 3rd place Dakar finish.
“Every detail has to be right. The Dakar is so tough and intense that you can’t have anything not working properly and that goes for driver, car and the team… even down to the number plates on the cars. We have Dakar1 for the race car and 2, 3, 4 and 5 for the support vehicles. I hope that the spectators will appreciate this nice little touch.” They might also appreciate the stunning wrapping on the car. The knight on the side is not a sponsor logo. “I’m proud to be Lithuanian and the knight has been a symbol of my country for 600 years. It shows that even though we’re not the biggest or richest country in the world we can still fight like heros… and that will be our Dakar story too. But the one thing you need more than anything on the Dakar, the element that counts above all else, is experience. I had two years in the Oscar so now I really think that we have the whole package to get into the Top 10.”
The Dakar Rally starts in Buenos Aires, Argentina on the 4th of January and finishes there on the 17th after the 13 day, 9000km loop around the South American continent. Race Dezert will take you the whole way.