332 vehicles racing over 8.000 kilometers through three different countries - that was the Dakar 2018. And it was an event that we’re unlikely to forget as it went down in history as one of the toughest ever, with competitors having to contend with the Peruvian Dunes as well as the Bolivian mountain roads and altitude. As with every Dakar event, it was a fierce battle between man, terrain and machine, with many title contenders seeing their podium chances vanish in a cloud of dust.
In terms of the cars, the Dakar was probably the toughest on Mini, who lost all of their three entries in the early stages. Most spectacularly, Bryce Menzies mistook his Mini for a trophy truck and bounced his machine over a jump too quickly, turning his Mini into a fidget spinner and suffering what would turn out to be the Dakar’s most spectacular crash. Luckily the whole crew came out unscathed with no serious injuries. The rest of the battle would be between Peugeot’s rear-wheel-drive 3008 DKRs Maxis and the four-wheel drive Toyota Hilux. A series of mechanical failures struck both camps, but it was Mr. WRC Carlos Sainz who felt most at home on the high mountain roads and managed to take the chequered flag, trailed by two Hilux’s driven by Nasser Al Atthiya and Giniel De Villiers.
The battle in the two-wheeler category was even closer. Unfortunately, the race lost its reigning champion halfway when Sam Sunderland sustained a back injury. After that it seemed to be a battle between the Hondas ridden by Kevin Benavides, Toby Price and Adrien Van Beveren, but later in the competition we saw more favourites lose out because of a massive navigation error which sent some participants off in wrong direction. One man, however, was at peak performance throughout the whole race: Austrian Matthias Walkner. He kept his head down and played the long game, gaining a win in Cordoba and leaving big shots like Kevin Benavides and Toby Price behind him.
The 10-tonne trucks were, as always, a spectator favourite as they clawed their way across the dunes. Kamaz has always ruled in the dunes, gaining no less than 14 victories. In 2018 they added another victory to that list, with Eduard Nicolaev taking his Kamaz up to the top step. But his win was no walk in the park as Federico Villagra took the lead in his Iveco halfway through the event. A problem in the later stages of the rally took the Argentinian out of contention.
In the SxS category it was the Can-Am of Reinalde Varela that held off the assault by the Polaris factory with a commanding victory, taking no less than five stage victories. The Quad competition was all set for a face-off between last year’s winner, Russian Sergei Karyakin, and the Chilean Ignacio Casale. Sadly, that competition ended when the Russian came off his Quad and broke his arm, handing a comfortable cruise to the finish for Casale who won by over 90 minutes.
The 2018 edition drew to a close with Sainz winning for Peugeot in their last competitive outing. The French team will not return for this year’s event. The Dakar 2018 proved to be a hair-raising thriller in almost all categories.
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© Photo credits: Dakar organisation