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Dakar 2008: Loprais Tatra Team ready for the Dakar at full strength.

The 30th Dakar is just behind the door and in all expectations it shall be a true celebration of the legendary race. A record number of competitors, the hardest sandy route of the past few years and the greatest media coverage of all times could prove this true. Loprais Tatra Team is setting off well prepared. Not only has the traditional in-depth testing session in Tunisia taken place, but significant progress has been achieved also in the area of technical development.

There is certainly a lot to base things on. Not only the six victories of the legendary Karel Loprais (he still has not been overtaken by anyone of the big boys), but also the sparkling third place overall scored by Karel’s nephew Ales. He made his first full driver participation a real success and feels ready to continue. By the way, both 10th and 20th Dakar editions are keeping the names Loprais and Tatra in their winners‘ books.

So, what’s up in the world of Loprais Tatra Team? First of all, it is the new Tatra 815 racing special of the new Superproduction class. Its main feature is a chance to build a racing truck of any components coming from a series production (e.g. engine, gearbox, axles, cab, bodywork etc.) and especially a chance to move the engine 400 mm backwards to achieve much better handling qualities than before. About half of top teams are joining the SP class and Loprais Tatra Team is no exception.

The new vehicle is powered by the classic Deutz V8 engine, which is moved backwards, which ensures excellent handling. The truck is substantially lighter (up to 500 kg) due to the new superlight superstructure made of carbon fiber. The handling character and behaviour reminds of an off-road buggy: "The truck is much faster now, it accelerates better but is also much more playful and ready to do what I want from it. In Tunisia we tested new setup programs of shock absorbers and torque stabilizers to come back to the original ones. I think we are successfully moving to an optimum," says Ales Loprais. His father and team manager, Milan Loprais, adds: "The Tunisian conditions cannot be simulated in Europe in any way, not even the Slovak Sahara, no matter how much we like it there. In the tests we detected many small bits to improve. Without this, we could easily quit the Dakar in Morocco. What a worthwhile experience!"

The racing crew is resuming in the traditional three-man lineup. Ales Loprais‘ navigator is Ladislav Lala who took his Dakar debut last year. And add Milan Holan, a mechanic who made a great contribution to the construction of the new truck.

Today’s Dakar goes far beyond the usual pace and number of real victory contenders of the pioneer times of the 80s. The assistance takes a greater and greater role. This is the first time the team is fielding two assistance trucks. The Tatra 4x4 (coincidentally the same truck used by Ales Loprais at Dakar 2007) will be driven by Michal Ptacek. The truck is equipped with a new box body case with an improvised bedroom for the racing crew. Only Kamaz and MAN teams are using this capacity.

"We are convinced that the physical fitness of the crews can play its role at the finish. We tried to do as much as possible to prepare a reasonable comfort for the racing crew to get a rest for the next stage," Milan Loprais says. The traditional sanctuary of the team in African bivouacs will be the legendary yet reliable "granny" Tatra 815 6x6. It will carry a load of heavy parts and driven by another Loprais family member, Karel’s 29-year old son, Leo. He will be in the crew with Petr Hamerla who was a member of the racing crew at the last of Karel’s victories in 2001.

And last but not the least, there is the press car, Nissan Navara. Just like last year, it will be driven by Karel Loprais, the Dakar legend. He will be accompanied by his brother and team manager, Milan, and team reporter Jiri Vintr with David Sucharipa a popular Czech actor. "By being allowed to finally get to Dakar, my lifetime dream is coming true," David says.

The total distance driven will be significantly higher than the last time, just like the distance of special stages. The organizers have decided to utilize every single corner of the West Mauretania and Morocco and have prepared a sequence of extremely grueling sandy stages. These sequences are, in addition, long enough to ensure a high retirement rate. After the sandy start in Morocco, the Moroccan south will already be mostly sandy and sand is going to be the key surface all the way to the end.

Sahel stages with mighty baobab trees, bushes and branches that devastate trucks will be totally absent, all is just sand. Even the last symbolic stage around Lac Rose will not be driven as a single stage but will only be a part of the last stage - no time wasted off the desert. The race is expected to be decided in the second half, with five consecutive grueling stages from Nouakchott to Kiffa. Let’s meet at the podium on January 20!

No other category has undergone such a fast and steep rise in overall technical development. In 2002 there were only about 30 trucks at the start line, with some 4-5 really thinking of getting to the podium. In 2008 about 15 crews are podium-oriented and some 25 of them are aiming at making it in top 10, and all of them being better and better every year. As many as 100 trucks are taking the start. It is reasonable to expect Dakar 2008 to offer the best truck race in Dakar’s history in terms of speed and sporting value.

The main competitors will be of course the Russian Kamaz works team with a new vehicle and a fast trio of Chagin, Kabirov and Mardeev. The de Rooy family team is fielding three fast Ginaf trucks powered by Iveco engines. Last year’s winner, Hans Stacey, is bringing a big semi-factory team of MAN, with four racing trucks. The works Ginaf team is going to have three works vehicles and one semi-works, all given a proper service. Let’s not forget our colleagues with Tatra, Tomas Tomecek and Andre Azevedo or the specials of Martin Macik. One must always count on the Sugawara family, the old-time desert foxes. There are many more to count on, though.

2007/12/21 | 21:44 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Loprais Tatra

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