“And we finally have a six-cylinder engine, which is a big step for us, but it means almost nothing for rallying,” smiles Prokop.
The forty-sixth edition of the Dakar Rally will be particularly spicy in the cars. And there are several reasons for that. The Czech Republic has three irons in the fire, the hottest one is undoubtedly Martin Prokop, who repeated the sixth place last year. “Five is a dream, but let’s be realistic. There are some thirty sharp cars at the start,” he said before leaving for Saudi Arabia.
Who will you bet on? Nasser Al-Attiyah vs. Sébastien Loeb
Regardless of who you support, the biggest sensation is undoubtedly the arrival of Nasser Al-Attiyah to Prodriv. The rivalry between him and Sébastien Loeb, two titans who have battled for victory in the previous two seasons, will now reach a whole new level as they will compete in an identical car for the first time, both with the latest Hunter T1+ model at their disposal.
“Loeb knows the technique and the team. Although Al-Attiyah is a rookie, there is probably no better pilot than him at the Dakar. And I say on purpose in the Dakar, because if you look at the statistics, Loeb is the better driver in the rally. Put them in the WRC and I immediately know who I would bet on, but everything is different here,” Prokop comments on the new situation in the 1000 horses podcast.
“Now before the race, of course, they look like partners, but everyone in the bivouac is looking forward to the two of them simply sharing it together, to going for it. It will be interesting to watch them, Loeb will certainly drive great, but Nasser has always been the one who sets the pace.”
The quality of both drivers is also evidenced by the fact that Loeb was the only one able to keep up with Al-Attiyah at the Dakar last year. And their enthusiasm did not die down even in the next races of the W2RC championship, when together they won 24 out of 34 stages in W2RC (14× Al-Attiyah, 10× Loeb).
And one more interesting thing… In total, six hunters are going to the Dakar – Prodrive rented or sold them to Brazilian and Chinese crews. And while we’re at it… There is talk that Prodrive is selling the racing Hunter for a million pounds, or roughly 29 million crowns. Without spare parts and accessories, of course.
Toyota has built the next evolution of the car, drivers are said to be impressed
So Toyota lost its Qatari captain, who won three victories with it and won the Dakar five times in total, but it still has three very good horses. Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Lucas Moraes and Giniel de Villiers have a chance to win, and they will be backed by three other riders under their wings, namely Guerlain Chicherit, Guillaume de Mévius and Seth Quintero. Although in the case of the last one, take the back covering more figuratively…
The young American, who is a master at collecting stage wins in the light prototype class (he finished second last year) and thanks to success in other races, ended last year with the W2RC title in one pocket, and already had the keys to the Toyota factories in the other. “We’ve had great seasons in the T3 class, but I haven’t driven much in the T1+ car yet. I feel the pressure, some expect me to fail, others expect me to succeed. I have to prove that I deserve that place.”
“I went to see Toyota and talked to Al-Rajhi, who showed me his new car,” says Martin Prokop. “He says that it’s still a bit further, that he still managed to advance his abilities and that he hasn’t hit the limits of the car yet. It sounded terrifying.’
Audi wants to say goodbye with a victory
The question is also what Audi. In 2022, they entered the Dakar adventure in style, last year only victory was acceptable for them, but in the end Mattias Ekström was the highest in fourteenth place overall. Neither Sainz nor Peterhansel finished the race.
For this year, Audi refrained from making any big announcements. The rider line-up is still the same, and even though it might have seemed before the Dakar that they would simply complete the pre-written three-year program out of obligation, before throwing themselves fully into Formula 1, the opposite is true. Their pre-start efforts in the bivouac and other FIA-approved power boosts play into the drivers’ determination as well. “Dad is 61 years old, but he wants to finally win,” said Carlos Sainz Jr.
It is Sainz who is incredibly motivated and is pushing Audi to give it their all. He’s in great shape, has a lot of experience and drives like he’s going to die tomorrow, like he doesn’t care. On the other hand, no one will probably forget how he crashed in style last year when he turned the Audi RS Q e-tron into a plane.
Ford wants to replace Audi from next year
A completely new addition to the starting field are two Ford prototypes from M-Sport. One of them will be driven by Nani Roma, who won the Dakar in 2004 on a motorcycle and repeated it ten years later in a car. “Ford is taking it by storm and they are mainly here to gain experience,” says Martin Prokop. And he admits that initially they came to them from M-Sport for advice.
“However, when we refused to give them our data from the whole of last year’s Dakar, that was the end of it.” And any possible courtship? Didn’t they rope him in? “Not a word!” Prokop resolutely refuses. And then he adds that M-Sport will present a completely new concept car in the spring and that after Audi leaves, Ford could take over the role of leading carmaker. “The American Ford is behind it, so the mother, and it can be assumed that they will not only have the taste, but also the means.”
And of course there’s Mini X-Raid, the South African team Century with a brand new car, as well as the reliable Optimus buggies in Evo5 design. All mentioned can easily finish in the top ten.
In any case, Prokop believes that even in such a packed competition there is a place for such small teams as his. “Anything can happen, I’d take the top ten as a definite success!”