Like the ear­lier edi­tion, the 2017 Dakar Rally proved to be a test of en­durance, pa­tience and, ex­pe­ri­ence.

Rus­sia’s Ed­uard Niko­laev of the Ka­maz-Master truck team claimed his sec­ond Dakar rally ti­tle on Jan­uary 14, 2017. Niko­laev com­pleted the fi­nal stage be­tween Rio Cuarto and Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina, with a 19-minute lead over his near­est ri­val to re­peat his Dakar suc­cess of 2013. Sec­ond place was taken by an­other Rus­sian Ka­maz-Master driver, Dmitry Sot­nikov, who left de­fend­ing cham­pion Ger­ard de Rooy of the Nether­lands and his Iveco in the third spot. The Rus­sians were a dom­i­nant force in the Dakar truck cat­e­gory with Ka­maz bring­ing home 14 ti­tles since 1996.

In what would be a fierce com­pe­ti­tion, Martin Kolomy of the Czech Re­pub­lic sur­prised the trucks field in the open­ing stage of 2017 Dakar rally with a first place fin­ish in ex­actly 30 min­utes. Martin Van den Brink and Ales Lo­prais were placed thirty sec­onds be­hind the leader, whilst the ti­tle holder Ger­ard de Rooy (pi­lot­ing an Iveco Dakar truck) man­aged to limit the dam­age to 42 sec­onds with his left rear wheel catch­ing fire in the last kilo­me­tre! Win­ner of the 2016 ti­tle, Ger­ard DeRooy, started first. He started ahead of the Ka­maz driven by Ai­rat Mardeev and the Iveco of Fed­erico Vil­la­gra. An an­nounce­ment by Mark Coma, Dakar Sport­ing Di­rec­tor, be­fore the start of the event, that the route of the 2017 Dakar pre­serves rally-raid tra­di­tions, held true through out the event as the truck teams fought it out. Coma men­tioned that the phys­i­cal chal­lenge will push the com­peti­tors into the world of ex­treme en­durance as they cover seven se­lec­tive sec­tions over 400 kms with one of them stretch­ing to more than 500kms. “The rally will be held over six days at more than 3,000 m above sea level. The level of dif­fi­culty will in­crease just un­til the rest day, then a sec­ond in­crease in power will be nec­es­sary, to reach one’s ideal level for the ‘Su­per Belén’. Noth­ing will be de­cided un­til the very last spe­cial stage at Río Cuarto,” he added.

After the first stage in Paraguay that com­prised of 39 km only, and against the clock, the com­peti­tors got down to grind­ing their teeth in the first big por­tion of the Dakar 2017 rally. Stage 2 marked the ar­rival of the rally into Ar­gentina. The rally, made up of bikes, quads, cars, SSVs, and not just trucks, ran over 800 km of treach­er­ous ter­rain, in­clud­ing a 275 km spe­cial in the re­gion of Chaco. In the spe­cial, it was pa­tience that counted the most as the par­tic­i­pants faced the dust. It was the kind of dust that turned into mud if it rained. The go­ing was not easy by any means. The route lead­ing to San Miguel de Tu­cuman could al­low Peter Ver­sluis, be­hind the wheel of a MAN truck, to in­crease his haul of vic­to­ries if the pro­vi­sional re­sults at CP1 were to be be­lieved. Al­ready a win­ner of four stage vic­to­ries, Peter Ver­sluis was by no means a novice. The route lead­ing to San Miguel de Tu­cuman could al­low him to in­crease his haul of vic­to­ries too. The MAN truck driver led Dmitry Sot­nikov and Ar­tur Ar­davichus after 120 km of the spe­cial. Twenty-three sec­onds ahead of Sot­nikov, Peter Ver­sluis con­tin­ued to lead the stage. Kolomy was placed sec­ond, and Martin Van den Brink was placed third – less than 40 sec­onds be­hind. The last few kilo­me­tres were de­ci­sive. Hav­ing come fourth in Stage 1, Mar­itn Van den Brink, driv­ing a Re­nault truck, moved up sev­eral gears after 200 km to lead the scene. He set the pace in Stage 2, build­ing a lead over three­minutes.

Martin Van Den Brink scored a su­perb vic­tory in Stage 2, soar­ing over the end of the spe­cial to win with a gap of two min­utes over Dmitry Sot­nikov. It was Dmitry Sot­nikov that the Dutch­man was pre­vi­ously neck-to-neck. Martin Kolomy, who fin­ished eighth on the day’s spe­cial driv­ing a Ta­tra truck, dropped down to third po­si­tion in the gen­eral stand­ings. De Rooy and Ver­sluis were nine and 18 sec­onds adrift in fourth and fifth place re­spec­tively. Siarhei Vi­a­zovich came sixth. Vil­la­gra, Hans Stacey (MAN), Ed­uard Niko­laev (Ka­maz) and Ar­tur Ar­davichius (MAN) rounded out the top 10. They were sep­a­rated by less than five min­utes. Ton van Genugten, driv­ing an Iveco truck, dropped down the order after los­ing 13 min­utes.

Ka­maz driver Ed­uard Niko­laev won Stage 3. Pre­vi­ous leader, Martin Van den Brink and reign­ing cham­pion Ger­ard de Rooy both lost time. The 2013 truck­ing cham­pion Niko­laev earned a nar­row lead over Martin Kolomy and Ton van Genugten in the first part of the stage, and main­tained it un­til the fin­ish. De­spite start­ing the day in the ninth place, the fact that Niko­laev was only one-minute and 23 sec­onds be­hind the sec­ond placed driver, helped him. It al­lowed Niko­laev to end up in that very po­si­tion in the over­all stand­ings, just half a minute adrift Kolomy. Fed­erico Vil­la­gra was best of the rest. He was now placed third over­all, be­hind Kolomy and Niko­laev. Siarhei Vi­a­zovich and Peter Ver­sluis fol­lowed the Ar­gen­tinian. While Kolomy re­ceived a penalty of three min­utes, thus los­ing the over­all first place to Niko­laev, Stage 3 caught out a cou­ple of big names, in­clud­ing Van den Brink.

In Stage 4, the com­peti­tors en­coun­tered al­ti­tude. The next few days would see com­peti­tors fight it out at an al­ti­tude of more than 3,500 m. With rapid ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion nec­es­sary, the driv­ers dis­played their skills at cross­ing dunes at such an al­ti­tude. The end of the route (Stage 4) in Bo­livia held many surprises. It called for good nav­i­ga­tional skills. Ai­rat Mardeev went into an at­tack mode right at the start of Stage 4. The Ka­maz driver snatched the lead right at the be­gin­ning of the stage with Ger­ard de Rooy hot on his tail. De Rooy spent the ma­jor­ity of the 416 km stage, which started in Ar­gentina but fin­ished in Bo­livia, less than a minute be­hind Ayrat Mardeev. Mardeev how­ever had to set­tle for the sec­ond place even­tu­ally, half a minute adrift of de Rooy. Close co­op­er­a­tion with Italy­ based Petronas Mo­torp­sort saw Iveco Pow­er­star trucks use spe­cial fil­ters to ne­go­ti­ate the Bo­li­vian Andes as the six­cylin­der en­gines un­leashed 900 hp of peak power. At the wheel of an Iveco truck, de Rooy led the pack in Stage 4 at an al­ti­tude of 4000 m above sea level. The Pow­er­star en­gines seemed to lose less power than oth­ers. At the end of Stage 4, Mardeev and de Rooy were 14 and 16 min­utes be­hind Sot­nikov, the Ka­maz driver jump­ing from sixth to first. Such an im­prove­ment was thanks to the five driv­ers in front los­ing time. Even Siarhei Vi­a­zovich fell more than three hours off the pace at the very be­gin­ning of the test. Ta­tra’s Martin Kolomy and Peter Ver­sluis (MAN) lost an hour and 30 min­utes re­spec­tively. Ed­uard Niko­laev and Fed­erico Vil­la­gra (Iveco) also dropped be­hind Sot­nikov. The duo how­ever com­pleted the top three with the Ar­gen­tinian less than two min­utes off the pace. So, if Sot­nikov, at the wheel of a Ka­maz truck fin­ished first at the end of Stage 4, Vil­la­gra in an Iveco came sec­ond. Niko­laev came third. An­ton Shibalov was the third Ka­maz driver to come fourth, ahead of De Rooy. Mardeev came fifth.

Stage 5 took the com­peti­tors to the high plains of the Bo­li­vian Andes. The va­ri­ety of ter­rains made this stage one of the most gru­elling. It in­cluded cross­ing two dunes. To be run in two stages, over 438 kms, Stage 5, be­cause of the ex­treme weather saw the sec­ond half be­ing can­celled. Czech driver Martin Kolomý started the stage with his foot to the floor. Snatch­ing the lead, Kolomy stayed seven sec­onds ahead of Ger­ard de Rooy. de Rooy snatched the lead from Martin and pulled away to win by nearly 12 min­utes. de Rooy be­came the fifth dif­fer­ent over­all leader in as many days, fol­low­ing Kolomy, Martin van den Brink, Ed­uard Niko­laev and Dmitry Sot­nikov. Kolomy fell to third place be­hind fel­low Ka­maz driver Niko­laev, who took the sec­ond place be­hind de Rooy. Ayrat Mardeev was the third Ka­maz in the top four, ahead of Re­nault’s Pas­cal de Baar. Sec­ond and fourth place, Fed­erico Vil­la­gra and An­ton Shibalov dropped to sixth and sev­enth place re­spec­tively, amass­ing a 50-minute deficit. Hans Stacey was the top MAN truck in the eighth place, nar­rowly edg­ing out team­mate Peter Ver­sluis. Ex­treme weather saw the can­cel­la­tion of Stage 6 from Oruro to La Paz. Per­sis­tent bad weather con­di­tions forced the race di­rec­tors to change the course of Stage 7 from La Paz to Uyuni. A new course was de­signed and a new road book was drafted dur­ing the rest day.

Scor­ing in the top ten in each of the stages since the start, Dim­itry Sot­nikov put his Ka­maz truck into over­drive to win his sec­ond stage vic­tory of his ca­reer at Dakar in the run up too. Uyuni, with a lead of two min­utes and 51 sec­onds over Iveco driver Ton Van Genugten. Sot­nikov climbed up to sec­ond place in the gen­eral stand­ings, which were still led by Ger­ard de Rooy. de Rooy did the nec­es­sary to main­tain his ad­van­tage. Stage 8 saw the Dakar leave the high plains for a spe­cial in­clud­ing off-track rac­ing, which in­volved cross­ing fords. The con­se­quences of the rain over the last few days forced the race of­fi­cials to change the route of Stage 8. With the spe­cial sec­tion cut down to 174 km, par­tic­i­pants headed to the sec­ond part of the spe­cial at the bor­der be­tween Bo­livia and Ar­gentina via a 176 km link sec­tion. The sec­ond part was un­changed. Martin Van Den Brink took a 13 sec­onds lead from ti­tle holder Ger­ard de Rooy. The Dutch­man took a 23 sec­onds lead from the sec­ond Iveco truck, driven by Fed­erico Vil­la­gra as well. Ger­ard de Rooy lost more than seven min­utes whereas his team-mate Fed­erico Vil­la­gra stayed ahead of Niko­laev by 45 sec­onds. With­stand­ing pres­sure from Fed­erico Vil­la­gra, Martin Van Den Brink won the stage, his sec­ond stage vic­tory, with a lead of 17 sec­onds. Ed­uard Niko­laev fin­ished third, 42 sec­onds be­hind the win­ner. Dmitry Sot­nikov took the lead in gen­eral stand­ings.

A mas­sive land­slide caused by thun­der­storms saw Stage 9, from Salta to Chilecito, be­ing can­celled. With the road cut off, the ve­hi­cles, com­peti­tors, as­sis­tance and lo­gis­tics were di­verted to an al­ter­na­tive route through San An­to­nio de los Co­bres, ex­tend­ing the dis­tance by about 200 km. Race car­a­van re­grouped at Chilecito. Ed­uard Niko­laev bril­liantly ne­go­ti­ated Stage 10. The Rus­sian led his two Ka­maz team-mates Dmitry Sot­nikov and Ai­rat Mardeev. Ed­uard Niko­laev picked up his sec­ond stage vic­tory with a lead of seven min­utes over his Ka­maz team-mate Dmitry Sot­nikov, cat­a­pult­ing him to the top of the gen­eral stand­ings for the first time. In Stage 11, the com­peti­tors con­fronted the dunes of San Juan. These stretched for over fifty kms. Lead­ing to the re­tire­ment of Ger­rit Van Wer­ven, this stage sprang many surprises for truck driv­ers. Ed­uard Niko­laev con­tin­ued to lead. He was the first trucker to get a grip on the day’s spe­cial. Niko­laev’s team mates, Dmitry Sot­nikov and Ai­rat Mardeev, fol­lowed him through­out the course. Niko­laev led Fed­erico Vil­la­gra by 41 sec­onds and Ai­rat Mardeev by one-minute and 18 sec­onds. Niko­laev won Stage 11 in Rio Cuarto, and was given a tough fight by Ar­gen­tinean Fed­erico Vil­la­gra who wanted to achieve a re­sult on his na­tive land. He fell short by 52 sec­onds!

The last stage of the rally, the twelfth stage, ran over 64 kms, and was de­void of any pit­falls. The com­peti­tors needed to go the dis­tance in or­der to cross the fin­ish­ing line that cul­mi­nated into a podium cer­e­mony in Buenos Aires at the end of a link stage. Un­for­tu­nate with­drawals at this stage in­cluded truck­ers Karel Tr­neny and Vic­tor Ver­stei­jen. Ed­uard Niko­laev kept the lead. He kept ahead of his team-mate Mardeev by 22 sec­onds. First to roll on to the podium in his Ka­maz truck, Ed­uard Niko­laev claimed vic­tory. Niko­laev’s team-mate Dmitry Sot­nikov was run­ner-up. De Rooy in an Iveco truck came third, and Vil­la­gra in an­other Iveco truck came fourth.

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