Heavy­weight bat­tle

The beasts of the rally track earn their place, writes James Stan­ford

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Big Wheels -

FORGETthe cus­tom cars and bikes, it’s the trucks that have the most pres­ence in the gru­elling Dakar rally.

They might not be as fast as the other ma­chines, but the big rally rigs cer­tainly make more of an im­pres­sion as they charge over the sand dunes.

This year’s Dakar has just been run and won, with its bruised and bat­tered com­peti­tors now mak­ing their way back to homes around the world.

The Dakar Rally Raid is now held in South Amer­ica af­ter gangs and ex­trem­ists made the pre­vi­ous African route too dan­ger­ous.

It is no more for­giv­ing, though, and driv­ers must travel 9000km through Ar­gentina and Chile over 15 days, rac­ing flat-out for 4810km.

It’s an in­cred­i­ble test in or on any­thing, but the trucks are an­other chal­lenge al­to­gether.

Weigh­ing up to 10 tonnes, these beasts are a real hand­ful to throw around cor­ners and steer along treach­er­ous tracks.

The Dakar trucks used to only carry spares for the smaller rac­ing ma­chines, but a class was soon set up to al­low them to race flat-out against one an­other.

In the 1980s the com­pe­ti­tion was so fierce be­tween DAF and Mercedes that DAF came up with a mon­ster ma­chine with two en­gines and more than 700kW (952hp) be­fore a fa­tal ac­ci­dent led to its with­drawal from the com­pe­ti­tion.

The Dakar trucks are not quite as wild as those ma­chines, but they are still amaz­ing feats of en­gi­neer­ing that are able to with­stand re­mark­ably rough con­di­tions.

They travel sur­pris­ingly quickly across the treach­er­ous route.

This year’s win­ner, Vladimir Cha­gin, fin­ished the rally in 48 hours, 28 min­utes and 54 sec­onds. That’s faster than any of the mo­tor­bikes and would have placed him fifth in the car class.

Nick­named the Tsar Cha­gin has won the Dakar event an in­cred­i­ble seven times be­hind the wheel of his Ka­maz truck, which is more than any other racer. The 41-year-old, who was con­grat­u­lated this week by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev, also has the most Dakar stage wins at 71, 10 more than the next-best driver, Stephane Peter­hansel.

Ka­maz trucks filled the first four places this year and have won nine Dakar ral­lies in the past 11 years, beaten only by MAN in 2007 and Ta­tra in 2001.

The Rus­sian truck-maker has thrown its full weight at the Dakar pro­gram for the past decade.

The Ka­maz truck is no light­weight at 9500kg. It has a huge foot­print, which helps it tackle tough sur­faces us­ing lots of mo­men­tum.

Truck-mak­ers need to pro­duce a hand­ful of trucks for sale, and hav­ing one of these could cer­tainly would make for some fun de­liv­ery driv­ing.

The Dakar or­gan­is­ing body has al­lowed teams to move the truck en­gines to en­able bet­ter weight dis­tri­bu­tion. They are pushed back and down for the best bal­ance.

The rac­ing Ka­maz runs an 18-litre twin-turbo diesel V8 that gen­er­ates a healthy 624kW (850hp) at 2500 revs. That is enough for it to wind up to 165km/h, which is very fast when you con­sider the forces in­volved.

There is a driver and the nav­i­ga­tor, who has a hell of a job find­ing his or her way out in the mid­dle of the sand dunes

This is a thirsty beast, and there is a 1000-litre fuel tank on board to en­sure the truck doesn’t run out in the mid­dle of a re­mote stage.

The en­gine is linked to a 16-speed ZF man­ual gear­box and power is fed to all four wheels via a trans­fer case that is placed at the rear for op­ti­mum weight dis­tri­bu­tion.

Sus­pen­sion is all-im­por­tant and the Ka­maz is es­pe­cially good at han­dling tough ter­rain. It is able to get se­ri­ous air­time, which is sim­ply re­mark­able for such a heavy truck.

The Ka­maz has huge solid axles at the front and rear. There are 15 leaf springs at the front and 10 at the rear, which are aided by Dutch shock ab­sorbers, one of the few nonRus­sian com­po­nents on the truck.

There are huge drum brakes on each corner, and the rear ones can be op­er­ated in­de­pen­dently to help it go around cor­ners. It has 20-inch rims wrapped with chunky Miche­lin rub­ber. An on-board pres­sure sys­tem al­lows the driver to let down the tyres— so they can work bet­ter in the sand— and au­to­mat­i­cally pump them up again.

The cab is from a road-go­ing Ka­maz truck, but has been re­in­forced with a web of a steel cage, which would hope­fully help in the event of a rollover, al­though I would rather not be in there to find out.

There are three race seats in the cabin. That’s right, three.

Just like the cars, there is a driver and the nav­i­ga­tor, who has a hell of a job find­ing his or her way out in the mid­dle of the sand dunes. Fill­ing the third seat is the all-im­por­tant me­chanic. Of course, the driver and co-driver are ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing out most re­pairs, but as you can imag­ine, hav­ing a third set of hands to help with the larger parts used on trucks could come in handy.

The first non-Ka­maz truck to fin­ish this year was a MAN in fifth, with an Iveco in sixth.

Ka­maz trucks won all but two of the stages, which were won by Ta­tra driver Ales Lo­prais, whose run came to an end when a turbo failed. The fastest Hino fin­ished ninth.

Sev­enth heaven: Ka­maz driver Vladimir Cha­gin (top) cel­e­brates af­ter the 2011 rally while a Ta­tra and a MAN find the go­ing tough.

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