Many firsts. This is one of the ways to summarize this year's 42nd edition of the world's most prestigious long-distance rally. Dakar took place for the first time in Saudi Arabia, the North Bohemian MKR Technology team built the first hybrid truck in the world and all the special trucks from the Židovice technology centre successfully reached the finish line for the first time. Mario Kress, the team leader, was therefore obviously satisfied after arriving in the Czech Republic.
"In fact, a man can be never satisfied," Mario Kress, the renowned designer and head of the MKR Technology team, dismissed the claim with a smile, and added: “But the truth is that this year's Dakar result is as we wanted, so we can definitely talk about overall satisfaction. The only thing we failed at, was the podium. On the other hand, it was not our goal. We knew what we were taking to Dakar and so we tried to hold all our emotions. The Dakar was completely different this year and completely new from many perspectives, so we all had to keep ourselves at bay, not to make unnecessary mistakes, and learn from the previous ones, and this was one hundred percent true. The whole team was working perfectly and both crews and the whole mechanical team showed a fantastic harmony, and I feel sincerely happy about that. It's a great investment for the future. We have something to build on and we have shown that they have to count with us, even though the podium has eluded us so far,” Mario Kress summed up the January Dakar with satisfaction.
For the first time this year, the North Bohemian MKR Technology team has sent four Renault racing trucks, one of which goes down in history as the first hybrid to start in the tough competition, but also completed it successfully. “The hybrid was a great challenge for us, but also a great unknown. We haven't had so many tests in the harshest conditions, so the Dakar was especially a big test during which we got the most valuable thing, the technical data, and we can now use them to develop it further. What makes me happy, is that the only troubles we had to cope with on the whole system, were childhood diseases,” said Mario Kress.
The Renault quartet from North Bohemia was led by Dutch pilots of three different teams that worked together. Gert Huzink of the Riwald Dakar team was on-board on the hybrid called the C 460 Hybrid Edition. His team-mate Pascal de Baar sat in the K520 cab-over-engine Renault, the same as Richard de Groot from Firemen Dakar. The red special Renault CBH 4x4 with "nose" nicknamed Sherpa was traditionally led by Martin van den Brink of the Mammoet Rallysport. Each of the pilots had a chance of success. During the race, each of them found a way to the top ten. But the stage podium has eluded them several times. The best place was the fourth place of Gert Huzink and Richard de Groot.
This year's Dakar was completely different. After nine years, the racing venue moved from South America to Saudi Arabia. The program included twelve stages and one day off. The race started in Jeddah and ended after two weeks in Qiddiya. In total, the crews of the trucks had to cover nearly seven thousand nine hundred kilometres, over five thousand were timed special sections. More than half of them were sand and treacherous sand dunes. Still, this Dakar was one of the fastest. “But the organization was at a great level and I personally take change as a big step forward. While in America many stages had to be cancelled several times, because the routes were strongly influenced by weather conditions, here the organization of the routes was significantly better. In addition, the level of communication coverage was on another level. Of course, it is a question of sports perspective, but for us, of course, a more civilized environment is more beneficial,” Mario Kress described the differences.
However, the race did not start as expected. In the first stage, all crews were "down" outside the top ten and Gert Huzink immediately lost the chance of solid overall ranking. For several long hours, Gert Huzink was delayed by a damaged simmering on the rear axle and for long it was not clear, if the crew could continue at all. They got into the bivouac in time and the team of technicians prepared the truck again for the next stage. The big surprise of the third stage was the fourth place of the “fireman” Richard de Groot, who was riding with the special Dakar truck from Židovice for the first time. “It was a brand new car for the firemen. They enjoyed the race with it and of course the fourth place was a great position. The boys did were not rushing anywhere, they were driving steadily without any major fluctuations to make good overall result. They were lucky to have avoided major complications on the track all the time, so they were our most successful crew in the end,” said Mario Kress.
While Firemen Dakar Team was moving forward without major complications, the other three had to fight hard, some of the literally. In the fifth stage, Gert Huzink's truck unexpectedly jerked on one of the dune descents and Martin Roesink's back has clicked. The crew then slowly completed the stage, but the technician had to leave the race prematurely and was immediately transported to a Dutch hospital with a broken vertebra and two more cracked vertebrates. The crew considered if to continue or not, but eventually decided not to give up the race. Pilot Gert Huzink continued with his partner, navigator Rob Buurs. The following sixth stage was literally a mayhem. The crew of Pascal de Baar had issues with rear differential, so the stage had to be driven only with front-wheel drive, which equals suicide in the dunes. The truck missed many waypoints, which meant an end in the main competition. However, after a much-sought day off, de Baar, however, could continue in the so-called Minidakar, the second half of the race. Before the day off came, an unfortunate collision of Martin van den Brink's truck with Tomáš Ouředníček's car left a mark on the day. Van den Brink with speed was avoiding the Czech rider, but at the most unfortunate moment, when he was getting back on the track, Ouředníček's car just turned back and has collided with the truck. However, after the first emotions on the spot, both pilots explained the situation in the bivouac and the team also helped to repair the broken car. The other half of the Dakar was much more peaceful, even though the machinery got a lot of pounding. “The boys have not slept much. Every night service was really tough, but the important thing was that we were able to get the trucks into a good shape overnight, but it was harder and harder every day,” Mario Kress was not hiding the fatigue.
Martin van den Brink, who had to cope with failure of the rear differential and the crew remained in the dunes, dropped out of the fight for the top ten in the eighth stage. On the contrary, in the last stages, the hybrid with Gert Huzink blitzed first into fifth place in the ninth stage and subsequently improved its position by another position. Although the final stage used to be rather symbolic, this year's Dakar was fought until the final finish in Qiddiya. But all four North Bohemian trucks got there successfully. In the final ranking, the thirteenth position belonged to Richard de Groot. Martin van den Brink was classified as twenty-third and was followed by Gert Huzink. As a Minidakar participant, Pascal de Baar was only in the results of each stage, but naturally he was absent in the overall ranking. In total, the trucks from Židovice finished thirteen times in the top ten, four times in the top five. “Hats off to everyone. Dakar is about big luck. One accident, one major technical problem and suddenly you have no chance of a solid overall placement. The huge support and great team and background Kamaz has every year, is very hard to face, but we have all shown that our cars and pilots are competitive, so I am looking forward to the next events. We have something to build on and the team spirit was with us all the time is a great advantage, where the work goes great and I believe it will last, because it is the main engine that forces us not to give up even in very difficult situations, ” Mario Kress, design leader of MKR Technology team, summed up with his typical determination this year's 42nd Dakar.