A proper Dakar is supposed to be hard. It is supposed to be an extreme test of the durability of the equipment and the crews, it is supposed to be a navigational challenge and a test of the driving skills of the masters behind the wheel. This has been true since the very beginning of the competition, when self-proclaimed adventurers raced, and it is true even in the modern era of factory teams with professional pilots flying the desert for their lives.
And it certainly applies to the modern “Arab” era of the Dakar, with new organizers looking for ways to make the competition even tougher with each year. Last year, the competitors visited for the first time an extremely vast and completely abandoned part of the world with the characteristic name of Empty Quarter, this year the entire marathon stage will lead straight there.
It’s not just a challenging environment of endless dunes and hard-to-find help, it’s also a completely new two-stage format called Chrono 48. It’s basically one stage divided into two days, with crews racing until 4pm on the first day, then having to stop in the nearest another temporary bivouac – there will be a total of eight along the entire 530-kilometer track. Wherever one reaches, one has to spend the night there. The next morning, the crews start again and reach the finish, with the overall time (i.e. the sum of the times from the first and second day) in which they completed the route being decided.
On paper, it looks pretty simple – go for blood on the first day, cover as much distance as possible, camp somewhere on the fourth day, and cover the rest the next day. “That’s an ideal scenario,” Martin Macík jr., racing truck pilot, nods his head. “But for example, if we had a damaged car, it might be more advantageous for us not to continue racing after 16:00, but to return to the nearest bivouac and spend time repairing it there.”
In Pustiny (Empty Quarter), the crews will be more or less on their own if their fellow racers don’t help them. The bivouacs will also only be temporary, i.e. without mechanics and actually without any background (and also without available information about the development of the stage), so any major problem can be final even for the favorites. “The point of this is to return to the roots of the Dakar,” explains Martin Macík Sr., head of the MM Technology team.
But from a practical point of view, there are a number of still unanswered questions – for example, about starting the next day. The first group will start one after the other (for safety reasons from the fastest to the slowest, i.e. early in the morning motorbikes, followed by cars and finally trucks), but on the second day it will be difficult to maintain this order when starting from several bivouacs at once the same track. “None of the organizers has yet been able to answer the question of how the start will be the next day,” shrugs Martin Macík jr.
David Pabiška, a biker starting in the demanding Original by Motul group, has his own idea: “In my opinion, the second day will be motocross-type starts, that is, everyone will be on the same line and will start at the same moment. Because I can’t imagine how else they could organize it.’
Viktor Chytka, Martin Prokop’s navigator, has one more concern: “Each crew is supposed to take things with them to sleep in – a tent, mats, sleeping bags – but some cars and all buggies and bikers are unlucky, they simply have nowhere to put it.” The organizers should handle it for them. But I can’t imagine how they’ll manage it, when each crew will be different speed and spend the night elsewhere. I think everything will be different in the end…”
The two-stage Chrono 48 is followed by a day off, but before that the crews have to complete the 800-kilometer transfer to Riyadh. “Some of the crews throw their cars and motorbikes on a truck and make the move by plane. But we just have to drive it with the truck – and that’s about eight to nine hours. And what if we have some technical problem,” muses Martin Macík jr. According to the latest information, however, the organizers promise a train on which trucks can also be loaded, but nothing is 100% certain yet.
It is also not clear about another innovation – parallel routes. “The organizers will prepare roadbook A and roadbook B, which will have the same start and finish, but at certain points the routes will separate and connect again. Before, if you got a little lost or your navigation didn’t work, you could keep your head in front of you and follow the tracks, but that would have been impossible,” explains František Tomášek, Martin Macík jr.’s navigator. He adds: “Now we they did it unplanned in Morocco, they didn’t tell anyone and they all got lost.”
Viktor Chytka recalls that the same thing was tried last year: “But some riders cried that they didn’t want it that way, because one part of the route could be more difficult than the other. Apparently, this pressure on the organizers will be again this year as well.”
But Martin Prokop says that he doesn’t care: “The conditions are the same for everyone. I’ll just go where the navigator tells me.” And the same applies to Martin Macík: “Riding in the dunes without tracks is not comfortable at all, especially when the sun is up and you can’t see the shadows. That’s also why we usually try to flock to the tracks, because that’s where it can be held. But in this case, I will have to trust my navigator more and not mess with him. In the end, it could be a diversion, because we believe in navigation and the last Dakar was not completely complicated in terms of navigation.”
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But only then will the stages around Ha’il and Alula come, which was the most difficult part of the race last year, when the overall position in the entire Dakar was decided. The Dakar Rally 2024 should thus once again confirm that it is the most difficult race in the world.
The good news, however, is that both Czech crews are well prepared for it. “We will compete with Čenda, with whom we took second place last year. So it’s a proven technique, which we’ve already just fine-tuned – for example, the chassis settings – to make it even faster,” praises David Švanda, the mechanic of Martin Macík’s crew.
25 days until the start of Dakar Rally 2024!! 🤯🚀
Posted by Martin Prokop on Monday, December 11, 2023
It was Martin Prokop who had to proceed with a major rebuild this year, when he removed the atmospheric V8 from Shrek, which was no longer sufficient for the pace of the rivals, and installed a modified twin-turbo V6. “Obviously the expectations are high – last year we finished sixth and this year we have a more powerful engine. But I’m cautious about this, because the year before we ended up in 25th place due to a differential failure, it’s simply impossible to predict. We won’t win stages, we’re not even that fast, but we want to push and lie in wait and gradually work our way up the order,” Martin Prokop explains his strategy for the race.
It should be similar for Martin Macík’s crew, as team boss Martin Macík Sr. explains: “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” I repeat to them: ‘Drive like an accelerated ČSAD and it will be fine.’ So if you see the guys driving around fifth place in the first half, it’s completely fine.” The Dakar will break only around the halfway point and only the one who reaches the finish line can win.