An engine hum and an extremely pleasant feeling of excitement before the start. For the 200 participants of the Africa Eco Race the morning of December 31 wasn’t marked by pre-New Year preparations and reflections on where to celebrate 2018. In the port of Monaco everything was decided already. Going to Dakar! The transcontinental rally “Africa Eco Race” of 6500 km was going be a two-week trial not only needing luck but also requiring endurance. There are a number of categories of vehicle participating in the rally, the “car” category of course, including jeeps and buggies, “motorcycle”, “truck” and a brand-new category SSV.
The SSV team from Romania led by Claudiu Barbu shared with HelloMonaco the main tasks getting ready for the rally and talked about some nuances to their approach to dealing with the challenges of the desert.
What major modifications have been applied to your vehicle?
We are performing with the SSV “Polaris”. Without modifications this car cannot participate in the rally. We had to change the suspension completely, expanding it and we had to renew the shock-absorbers. In the back of the SSV we also have changed everything, by adding 2 ventilators in case the engine overheats, also adding replacement wheels and an extra fuel tank. This point is vital, because one tank is simply not enough, as the fuel consumption is 30 liters per 100 km! Moreover, we have 2 batteries, as reserve energy. Inside for our security the seats are equipped with 6-point seat belts.
Is this your first experience in the rally?
In the Africa Eco Race we are participating for the first time but our team is the Eastern European champion and we took 4th place in Europe in rallying as well. This year we’ve already performed at the championship in Morocco.
What moments for you will be most challenging?
Often we face mechanical problems; and besides that, it is necessary to apply a very specific driving style and of course navigation. For each participant the most difficult moment is the “Dakar problem”. Desert, dust, together with dunes are very exhausting, so you need to fight with yourself to overcome your own weaknesses.
The participant from Holland Eric Klomp stands out in the category “motorcycles”. He shared with HelloMonaco his thoughts on the unique challenges of the rally with respect to motorcycles: “In 2015 I took part in Dakar in South America which is a bit like the Africa Eco Race. I think that this race will be very special because now we are heading to the real Dakar. My KTM motorcycle is specially designed for the rally. It has special shock-absorbers, a special position for the driver, and navigation specially developed for the desert. For motorcyclists this race will be especially difficult. Based on my experience in the dunes the orientation of the motorcycle and the sensation the rider experiences as feed-backis a very important particular. Dunes are very soft and it is important to understand how to move. Mauritania will be the most difficult part of the rally but at the same time, the most beautiful one. In the categories “buggies” and “cars” you always have a navigator; here every motorcyclist is responsible for himself. In the desert we will also develop our routes independently using navigation maps and a compass”.
Konstantin Zhiltsov, navigator of the Russian team “G-Energy Team”, winner of the Africa Eco Race 2017 and a Dakar bronze medalist told HelloMonaco about all the intricacies of the rally, from his point of view.
“I have already navigated several “Dakar” rallies and one point remains quite challenging the Moorish sands. Professionals are very familiar with reading sand, according to its colour, consistency, analyzing the sands and indicating in what direction you can move, and where you should not go. But this kind of sand is absolutely unpredictable, because it does not abide by any theory. One colour can be either hard or way too soft. It is very difficult to drive a car on it because of the constant change in the hardness of the sand. The process of adaptation to it is long. In the car, the most important elements are reliability and endurance”
The pilot of the G-Energy Team and the winner of last year’s competition Vladimir Vasilyev focused attention on the importance of physical training in the rally: “The rally needs endurance. Unfortunately, this year I missed a lot of races because of a fractured back in April in Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, I actively prepared for the Africa Eco Race, training at least 2 hours every day. Now I am totally ready and looking forward to the start!”
And we will look forward to the final results of the rally, hoping that the race will be exciting and safe at the same time. Bon courage!