Hello everyone, my name is Honza Červenka and this is my fifth Dakar. Actually the sixth in a way when the first one was the Africa Eco Race. I am driving again with the MP Sports team, where Martin Prokop (ninth participation in the Dakar) is starting in the colors of the Orlen Jipocar Team, for whom Viktor Chytka is the navigator (he has already been to the Dakar fourteen times, racing eight times). Last year, these two took care of a sensational sixth place in the car category, when they established themselves as the best private team with Shrek (Ford Raptor) even in the packed factory competition.
My first working day ✌️ Let’s go, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the office, in the workshop, behind the wheel, or under the blue sky 😁
Posted by Jan Červenka – journalist on Tuesday, January 2, 2024
And here at Garage you can enjoy the Dakar rally directly from the scene. This is not a classic news report, I will leave that to others with permission, but you will read things directly from the desert, i.e. stories, interesting facts and reports. In addition to writing and hosting podcasts, my job here is to drive the escort car, and it just so happened that I also became the team’s coffee-making specialist – read: pressing the button on the coffee machine. So welcome to my world!
Dakar is more than a favorite competition for us Czechs. This mania was already started in the eighties by Karel Loprais (we remember), Tatra and Liaz, and it continues to this day. Always at the beginning of January, even those who are otherwise not very interested in car racing, look with interest at attractive photos and videos from the dunes. And the names Prokop, Macík, Loprais, Michek or Klimčiw are among the most sought after. So who all of the Czech riders and teams are starting at the Dakar and what should we expect from them?
It wasn’t quite the custom for Czech racers to push themselves in the most crowded class at the Dakar Rally, but that changed when Martin Michek started racing. He is also present this year in the colors of the Moto Racing Group, where he is joined by matador Milan Engel and three newcomers – Martin Prokeš, Jaromír Romančík and Dušan Drdaj.
“Of course, I would like to be in the top ten, but that’s a challenge,” said Martin Michek before the start. “If it’s the top fifteen, we’ll be satisfied,” says MRG team boss Ervin Krajčovič. “Engel will be driving for the tenth time, a twenty-fifth place would be great for him. And our three newcomers are here mainly for experience, although of course they can surprise.”
For some motorcyclists, the electronic roadbook will be a novelty, which racers in cars and trucks are already used to. “There wasn’t a day at the races in Morocco that it wasn’t a problem. From occasional outages to total failure. You couldn’t see it, there were problems with control,” laments Krajčovič. And he also welcomes the fact that the drivers of the GP category, i.e. the fastest, continue to drive with paper roadbooks.
And Jan Brabec will also have a paper one, who last year finished in sixth place in the Rally 2 class and was selected. “I’m very happy about it, the electronic one didn’t suit me at all. And my goals? Enjoy every day, let’s see what happens in the end.”
David Pabiška and Libor Podmol will compete in the Original by Motul category, i.e. motorcycles without assistance. The first-named is an experienced fighter and he had to think about participating in the class a bit, precisely because of what he has already done in the Dakar – he is going for the sixteenth time, only once he did not finish. Libor Podmol returns after a one-year hiatus and with a tight budget and only minimal preparation has only one goal – to reach the finish line.
“Whoever takes the first three places in Original by Motul is not allowed to go next time,” mentions Pabiška. “But I was fourth twice. I’ll go with my head again. In other words, think about navigation and driving, don’t get hurt unnecessarily, drive fast, but be safe.”
While cars used to be in the shadow of trucks in the Czech Republic, since MP Sports from Jihlav started successfully competing with factory teams, a lot has changed. Martin Prokop was able to finish sixth twice, which is a huge success. “There are actually some thirty fast cars in this year. From factory teams with practically bottomless budgets and possibilities, to teams with factory support that drive older cars of the T1+ category, to privateers like us,” says Martin Prokop.
Shrek, i.e. Ford Raptor, which is completely the work of MP Sports, got a new heart after two years of development, the naturally aspirated eight-cylinder replaced the twice-turbocharged six-cylinder. “It’s a huge step for us. It’s great to drive, the engine has plenty of power and shouldn’t have such big power drops at higher altitudes. We are struggling a bit with the temperature and we will try the new cooling system here during the tests. But we’ll see.’
One of those starting with an older factory car is Tomáš Ouředníček, who is returning to the Dakar after a one-year break. “We have the same car with which Nasser Al-Attiyha drove and won,” says Ouředníček proudly. “We won it also thanks to the support of the Czech Toyota, and Dakar 2024 will be about experience for us, although of course we are thinking about partial and overall successes. We are racers after all.”
The third car under the Czech flag is Karel Trněný’s Ford. He didn’t make it far in his first Dakar last year, but having learned, with a new co-driver (Tomáš Ernst, Prokop’s co-driver in the WRC), he mainly wants to see the finish line and gain experience. He also already has a T1+ specification car, and they agreed with Martin Prokop to possibly help if needed in the race. “We helped Karl in the preparation and we have agreed that he will eventually help us on the track,” says Prokop.
Czech fans will certainly be interested in the start of only nineteen-year-old Aliyyah Koloc from the Buggyra team. She had her premiere last year behind the wheel of a light prototype, and now she too is going to race with a T1+ class car. “It’s significantly more physically demanding, especially in the sand. I already have some idea of what awaits us, we have been tested. The priority is to reach the finish line and gain experience.”
Macík or Loprais? Who do you root for? And who has a better chance?
Martin Macík shined with second place last year, but he himself admits that his success came only at home. “We had four stage wins, we wanted to win, but on the ninth stage, when we got stuck in the mud, our hopes were dashed. At first I was disappointed, of course, but to finish second in the Dakar, where anything can happen at any time, is a huge success.” This year he drives with a truck that has undergone minor changes, mainly in the area of the chassis. And the goal is the top five. “All the fans are waiting and everyone wants to win, but that’s not how it works here. When we’re on the crate, it’s going to be great. If we win it will be the best. And of course we’ll do everything for that.”
Last year, Aleš Loprais stepped down from first place after a non-culpable fatal accident. He was disappointed by the organizers’ approach, he was sorry that he could not continue the race. “For a while I had thoughts about whether to continue racing at all. But I’m back, the taste and desire is still there. We’re going with Lady, which is just as good and capable as it was last year, we just modified the shift software.” His partner for the third time will be the younger Jaroslav Valtr and the returning Jiří Stross.
Buggyra is deploying three trucks to the Dakar. The Tatra Phoenix will be driven by Jaroslav Valter and Daniel Stiblík, the brand new Tatra Buggyra Evo3 racing truck was supposed to be driven by Martin Šoltys, who injured his shoulder on skis a few days before the race, and was replaced by the hastily summoned Dutchman Pascal de Baar. The Tatra Buggyra Evo3 was created in just two months, and the team boasted that artificial intelligence was also involved in its development.
The other two trucks are driven by Michal Valtr and Dušan Randýsek.
The category of old racing cars that drive in the style of vintage rallies was made famous in the Czech Republic by Ondřej Klymčiw, who took to the start with a Škodovka 130 LR. And he will go with her this year as well, it will be the last year.
On the contrary, Barbora Holická will be at the start for the first time, who will try to drive a Citroën 2CV, i.e. a so-called duck, to the finish line. “Fourteen people once tried to do it in a fierce race, but in vain. Hopefully we will have more luck,” says Holická, who is navigated by Lucie Engová, Tomáš Enge’s sister.
The third Czech participant in the Classic class is Jan Vinš with a Mitsubishi Pajero.
Journey and preparations
The vast majority of the Czech participants in Dakar 2024 flew from Prague on a charter flight early on New Year’s morning, and now they are all, without exception, in a bivouac near the town of Alula.
And that the New Year was damn demanding! Many participants, regardless of their roles, didn’t even sleep before departure, and upon arrival they had to pick up their equipment at the port and then the 370 kilometer long transfer to the starting bivouac. We arrived at eleven at night, many until after midnight, some even until early in the morning.
On Tuesday, some went for a shakedown, but most of them kept it until Wednesday. “I need to get myself together and tomorrow we have a whole day for testing,” says Jan Brabec. Martin Prokop took advantage of that at least in the afternoon, even though he too has Wednesday’s test as a priority. “We’ll be testing new dampers and other partial changes.”
The bivouac at Alula is simply huge. Last year, one stage ended here, now Dakar 2024 starts here. All administrative matters are dealt with here, the test routes are only a few kilometers away and the organizers, learning from previous years, have prepared separate routes for individual categories. And here on January 5, the prologue will be held, which will determine the order for the start of the first stage.
Are you interested in something specific from Dakar? Do you want to ask something? Then don’t hesitate and write in the discussion! I will think of you in the next editions of the Dakar Diaries!