Since January 5, 2014, trucks taking part in the Dakar Rally have been driven to their limits under extreme conditions. An experienced MAN service team made sure that the racing teams arrived at their destination quickly and safely.
Hot desert air, stony tracks, boulders and dust – when MAN mechanic Hans Echter turns his thoughts to the
world´s toughest rally, he can still feel the sand from the Atacama Desert grinding between his teeth. Having already experienced the Dakar Rally several times, he still hasn´t had anywhere near enough.
Not only cars and quads take part in the Dakar Rally, but motorcycles and trucks also compete in this famous race. Between January 5 and 18, 2014, a total of around seventy MAN trucks were in action during the Dakar Rally, sixteen of these being race trucks driven by various teams. The Rally leads more than 2,700 kilometers through Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. Hans Echter is very familiar with the extreme conditions and the strain on the trucks. Since 2006, racing teams have been relying on him and his colleagues, Hans-Werner Nell and Josef Kreppold. Along with their service truck, these three members of MAN´s Munich-based Testing Department form part of the MAN works team.
As well as their race trucks, the racing teams also take service trucks to the Rally to keep the racing vehicles in perfect shape at all times. The mechanics in these service trucks belong to the team.
However, Messrs. Echter, Nell and Kreppold not only provide support for customers´ own MAN rally trucks, but also assist other MAN service trucks, more or less serving as a back-up. As a result, the MAN service truck reaches a payload of twelve tons, with 1,500 spare parts on board.
During the Dakar Rally, the teams´ service crews are faced with a highly challenging task. Work starts each evening after all the racing vehicles have arrived at the day´s destination. Depending on the amount and type of damage, work continues until four o´clock in the morning, the crew then taking turns to sleep during the drive to the next bivouac. Yet even during the day, the team must be wide awake and ready to respond swiftly to any technical problems encountered along the way.
Mr. Echter and his team are not however allowed to provide support on the racetrack itself. For according to the rules, only drivers may offer mutual support during the Dakar Rally. But teams use the trick of entering some of their service trucks in the race. The only purpose of these so-called assistance trucks is to provide support for their own team´s faster vehicles in the event of a breakdown.
The racing truck driven by the X-raid team is, for instance, escorted by two MAN assistance trucks. This saves time – X-raid racing drivers having to wait no longer than thirty to forty minutes for a service truck, a tyre change taking four minutes. Along with five MAN race trucks, the Dutch VEKA team has twelve MAN service trucks taking part.
Every minute can make a difference between victory and defeat during the Dakar Rally. This is why service is tremendously important throughout the race – the Dakar Rally cannot be won without reliable service trucks and the untiring efforts of the mechanics.
From MAN´s viewpoint, the Dakar Rally is a good opportunity to experiment and, for instance, test the performance of traction vehicles in the mountains or on particularly difficult terrain. "We have special shock absorbers," says Mr. Echter, while other truck parts have also been adapted to local conditions. "But ninety percent of the trucks are the same as vehicles from our series production," stresses Mr. Echter.
At the 2014 Rally Dakar, two MAN-drivers were amongst the top ten.
The MAN service truck was loaded two months before the Dakar Rally started and shipped to Argentina. We joined the service team while it was still packing in Germany.
Images © Oliver Soulas