And the bikers didn’t disgrace themselves either, on the contrary – Martin Michek once again reached the top ten! Even the newcomers were pleasantly surprised. But in order…
Twelve stages, eight thousand kilometers in total, of which almost five thousand kilometers are specials. The huge dunes in the Empty Quater, the dry river beds in the Hailu region, the rocky plains around Yambu. Every day was different, every stage had a specific character. A year ago, due to floods and relocation, the organizers had to improvise and created a so-called marathon stage with sleeping in the desert, but even before that with a two-hour service. So a sprint for mechanics. The organizers liked it so much that they made it official this year. And then immediately 48h Chrono, i.e. a two-day stage, without support, seven improvised bivouacs and style – wherever you reach, there you sleep. It was a massacre. In short, the organizers found a way to tire the riders and accompanying teams.
And this is exactly what suits the Czechs. This is what they always talked about, this is what they wanted. The harder the better. Then the differences in technique and equipment are blurred, the decision is made by skill, taste and strong will. Golden Czech hands, I want to write to one.
The head quickly forgets the ugly, the hard work and moments of uncertainty, or perhaps even fear. And finally for that one human sacrifice. The 2024 edition will be remembered as the golden one, when the Dakar finally returned to its roots, when the organizers surpassed themselves. “You can be proud of yourself if you finish,” said David Castera, race director, on the final ramp. “We have prepared this year for you in such a way that only the strongest can withstand it. But if you didn’t make it, then next year is here and you’ll all be at the start together again.”
I dare to say that most Czechs will come to Saudi Arabia again. Hungry since they were here for the first time, they will want to capitalize on what they have learned. Those who were unlucky will want to make amends. And those who succeed will want to show that it wasn’t a fluke. But there are certainly those who will say never again. That all the hard work, suffering, dirt and dust is simply not worth it to them. That they don’t want to take the risk.
There haven’t been so many bikers with the Czech flag next to their names at the start for a long time. Not a single one of them did the shame.
And the overall winner Ricky Brabec also has a Czech surname, even though he is American as a log. He won in a time of 51 hours and 38 minutes, watching his battle with Ross Brach was a joy, the two were only a second apart at the halfway point of the Dakar. At the same time, Brabec did not drive in a style where he necessarily had to win one stage after another, rather he kept an eye on it. He thus repeated his triumph from 2020.
Our best motorcycle rider at the finish – Martin Michek, has repeatedly shown that if you have the will and ability, but also one wheel less or more, as he himself says with a smile, you can succeed even in the competition of factory teams. He finished ninth in the penultimate stage, the day before he was at the very top of the standings. And before that, he was fighting a virus that affected half the bivouac. Overall, he threw a ten, equaling his personal best. “Tenth place is magical, I didn’t even hope for it. It was challenging for me physically, mentally and health-wise. I’m glad we made it to the end, I seriously thought for a while whether to give up, whether it makes sense.”
“I’m happy for him, but also for the other guys,” says Ervín Krajčovič, head of the Moto Racing Group team, who, in addition to Michek, brought the experienced Engel and three newcomers – Martin Prokeš, Jaromír Romančík and Dušan Drdaj – to the start of the Dakar. The two last named ate up the Dakar, so-called, when they were troubled by technical problems and reached the finish line out of order, but both also showed with their performances that they definitely belong at the Dakar. “They are all fighters, no one gave up, and they fought not only the competition, but also the technique and themselves. Maximum satisfaction for us.”
Honza Brabec can also be satisfied. The twenty-seventh arrived. “I didn’t imagine it like this. I put a lot of effort into the preparation, I did training camps in Dubai, I had a great bike. For the first half of the Dakar, I was in about twentieth place, then the day off came and the fever killed me. My joints hurt, I was sick just from the thought of driving 450 competitive kilometers and 850 overall, but I’m really happy for myself that I did it.”
Libor Podmol would deserve a separate chapter. When you met him in the bivouac, he was mostly battered, dusty and tired. In fact, he looked like he couldn’t even start the next stage, let alone finish it. He rode in the Original by Motul category, i.e. without assistance, and the dream of the top three quickly turned into just a desire to make it to the finish line. After one rough fall, when he landed face first on the rocks, he had several nicks on his eyebrows, a monocle like a boxer after a KO and a bruised hand. For not giving up on the Dakar, he received a special award for fighting spirit from the race director.
And the sixteenth Dakar for David Pabiška? One could almost say that it was a routine performance. Another fourth place in the category, but also 42nd place overall. For me personally, this fighter deserves a metal for the way he took care of and helped Podmol when he was at his worst.
“Guys, if we’re in the top ten this year, we’ll take it as a great success,” said Martin Prokop at the start of the Dakar. He was well aware that even a new engine is not necessarily a guarantee of a good result. “It looked good in the tests, it drives really well and Viki and I get along, but when I see all the factory cars, it makes me sick. But we will fight and see.’
And in the very first stage, a warning came in the form of a fifty-minute deficit for the leading rider, when he had to slow down after two punctures right at the edge of the special stage. “At the time, I thought that even the top ten would not be playable…” But in the end, it is the best Czech success in the car class in the history of the Dakar! A long 48-hour Chrono helped and then a professional and prudent ride in the penultimate stage, where he didn’t let himself get carried away. “We still had to think that Viki and I were there alone, that no one would help us. When we overtook two cars towards the end of the stage, one of which had a punctured hood and a shock absorber spring peeking out of it, and the other had a broken wheel, so it wasn’t a pretty sight at all.”
Fifth place among the factory teams, again the best privateer in the Dakar. Prokop outdid himself by improving on two previous sixth places. “It is a dream. When I see what we have achieved here, who is behind us, I am proud of my boys, my team. We’ll celebrate, then we’ll go to Abu Dhabi, do a few WRC races, some more cross country and we’ll do it again next year.”
And as aptly remarked by Míla Janáček, one of the Czech Dakar matadors and creator of the Dakar mobile project. “In competition with those factory teams, it’s like winning the Dakar in trucks three times in a row.”
In Prokop’s shadow there are two other Czech car crews. Karel Trněny and Michal Ernst held on, continued despite one somersault in the sand and reached the finish line in forty-fifth place. “We didn’t make it last year, so I’m happy that this year we finally did. We rode in order to bring it, we gathered experience, we are satisfied,” reports Trněný at the finish line.
But Tomáš Ouředníček must be dissatisfied, who, after years of effort, obtained Toyota factory specifications, albeit a model that still has an atmospheric engine. That in itself can be taken as a success, but the announced attack turned into a desire to get to the finish ramp after a traditional series of Dakar stories, which the rider himself says would be for a book. He finished ninety-seventh in the overall ranking of cars, trucks and buggies. Aliyyah Koloc, a competitor with Czech roots, finished in forty-seventh place. It was she who surprised many not only with her stable performances, but also with her determination.
Pop the champagne, roll out the barrels! After twenty-three years, we received gold in this category. “We waited for twenty-two years,” recalls Martin Macík senior, head of the team, himself a former competitor and now a constructor and mentor in one person, at the finish line of the Dakar. He was the one who took his twelve-year-old son to Africa to the Dakar finish line at the Pink Lake. And as Macík Jr. mentioned many times, he remembers flamingos and animals on safari more than cars.
Dad got him into racing and Dad built him a winning truck. “I would never have been able to do it without him and the entire team. At the finish line, we hugged and cried… What can we say, we are very proud of it. The first half didn’t quite work out for us, we were unhappy after one lapse, but when we passed the forty-eight-hour stage with such a brutal lead that we really had that no one gave it to us, we started to believe that we had the speed and that It will go.”
We chat before entering the finish ramp, all three of us beaming with enthusiasm. In order not to, he knows very well that the fans in the Czech Republic are going crazy. This year, everything came together for Martin and his teammates to achieve the desired victory, and there was also a double in the form of Aleš Loprais in second place. This was only possible once, in 1988, when Karel Loprais, Aleš’s uncle, won.
As you can see, truck racing is also a family affair for the Loprais. And no one will even forget how unluckily Loprais lost the well-started Dakar last year.
“Of course, second place is nice, but we thought about more. But we had a great race, all the sand stages were excellent and the whole Dakar went well,” says Aleš Loprais.
In the end, Macík won with a lead of two hours, the difference between the second and third place occupied by the Dutchman Van Den Brink was more than two hours, the leader of the first stages, Janus van Kasteren, lost almost five and a half hours to Macík at the finish line. This year’s Dakar was seriously difficult for the trucks, sharp machines fought, those that work as fast assistance went around a lot of things and faced brutal penalties. They also knocked down other Czech trucks, for example Michal Valtr in fourteenth place lost 64 hours to Macík.
Dakar 2024 is behind us. It was extremely difficult, the most difficult in years here in Saudi Arabia. He was a disaster for many favorites, but the Czechs will remember him as the golden one. At the Dakar, when the Czechs shined in all three main categories!