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At Dakar 2023, for the first time in three decades, trucks competed without KAMAZ, which won the most prestigious raid on the planet 19 times. Before the start, the rest of the participants were waiting for a tense equal fight at each special stage between all the crews, but the teams of the Czechs Martin Macik and Alyosha Loprais, as well as the Dutch organization of Gerard De Roy, were still considered the main favorites.
The De Rooy team was represented by 4 trucks, but inside it was “divided” into two: Boss Machinery De Rooy Iveco, driven by Janus van Kasteren (#502) and Vik Versteinen (#504) and Eurol Team de Rooy Iveco, which was represented by van den Brink: father Martin (#506) and son Mitchell (#511).
He won truck number 502 – for Janus van Kasteren and Marcel Snyders, this was the first victory at the Dakar rally, but for the Polish mechanic Darek Rodewald, this is the third title: he won the previous two together with Gerard de Rooy in 2012 and 2016.
How did Dakar develop for the winner? Was it really easy without KAMAZ?
On the 13 km prologue, Janus started behind Albert Jovera and was able to overtake the Andorran halfway through, finishing the short special stage in 3rd position, 6 seconds behind Martin Macik.
Janus van Kasteren: “It took some time to overtake Jovera because the dust got in the way. We are very pleased with the third place. Mitch van den Brink was one second ahead of us, he had a good result. We are third, tomorrow two trucks will start in front of us – Martin Macik and Mitch. Ideal situation. The truck is fine, so are we. The real Dakar begins.
J.V.K.: “We drove very fast: I think we overtook four crews in the first 50 km. Then we slowed down a bit. I thought that now we are the first anyway, we just have to go quietly. We had a good finish lead over our rivals, but it turned out that one electronic roadbook took the waypoint, and the second did not.
Due to the large number of stones, today was extremely difficult for everyone. Even before the first neutralization, there were many crews who ran out of spare tires. But we didn’t break a single wheel. It feels like the hardest stage I’ve ever ridden.”
Third stage: rains and rescue of two ATVs
The third stage became difficult because of the rains: the organizers had to stop the race on CP3. Starting the special stage very cheerfully, van Kasteren finished only in 6th position, 20 minutes from the leader. It was the last stretch to CP3 that van Kasteren was driving quite slowly: water got into the engine and the electrics were malfunctioning. At this stage, Janusu helped the crews on the SSV who were stuck in the water: Cristina Gutiérrez and Chaleco López. Subsequently, the organizers compensated for the time spent helping those who were drowning. Only 8 trucks were able to reach CP3 that day.
J.v.K.: “We stopped at that place by the river, then Loprais and Macik drove up, and then Martin van den Brink. We tried to pull the buggy out of the river, the sand was loose, so it was quite difficult. The pilots were still in the buggies, they were up to their shoulders in the water, and their cars were already starting to sail. Luckily, we were able to get them out in time.”
Fourth stage: engine problems that cost an hour
The whole stage of van Kasteren was plagued by problems with the engine: he had to stop, reset the system and go again. Despite the problem, Janus kept in the top five, but 15 km before the finish line, the truck got stuck on a dune at such an angle that the fuel did not get into the engine – and it stalled! With great effort and a great loss of time, the crew managed to put the truck in a horizontal position, the diesel got into the engine, and it started working again. At the finish, the crew was only in 10th position, 57 minutes behind the leader. At that moment, it seemed that all chances of winning or even a podium were lost.
J.V.K.: “Terrible unlucky day. For the third day in a row we have problems with the engine.”
Fifth stage: punctured wheel
After all the failures the day before, Janus started the fifth special stage from 10th position, but already in the second SR he took the lead, and his lead over other trucks continued to grow. But again, failure – this time a punctured wheel, and the 5-minute advantage over the rivals evaporated. Van Kasteren was only third at the finish line, 3 minutes 24 seconds behind the winner.
J.v.K.: “Before the stop, the first two hundred kilometers were with level 1 dunes, they were easy to pass, although the sand was heavy. The truck performed well, but a punctured tire cost us 7-8 minutes. Too bad, otherwise we would have won.“
Stage six: inclusion in teamwork
Due to rains, the sixth special stage was shortened by 100 km, and the bivouac was moved to Riyadh. The three crews of the De Rooy team that day held together, putting pressure on the classification leader Aleš Loprais and collectively overtook him. According to the results of the stage, van Kasteren finished second, only 35 seconds behind Mitch van den Brink.
J.v.K.: “Today was a very good day. We were in direct line of sight with Mitch for a lot of time, chasing, it was great. We passed Loprais, I did not see where he got stuck and lost a lot of time. We also struggled with Martin van den Brink for a while, but we had to calm down a bit as we had a broken spring on the rear axle. If we had broken the other one, we would have had to stay in the dunes. I am very proud of Mitch who won a stage today and has written his name into history as the youngest ever truck stage winner.”
Marathon: first win with a broken windshield in the seventh stage, finish without spares in the eighth
Only at the seventh “half-marathon” stage Janus van Kasteren got his first stage victory. On the rocky canyon before entering the dunes, he overtook Mitch, pulled away from Macik, who had already appeared in the mirrors, and at the end of the special stage on gravel paths, he had to cut corners, paving the route for other trucks. But this special stage turned out to be not without adventures for Janus – he broke the windshield with a tree, and the mechanics were given only two hours to service. But the team did the job, replacing the glass and carrying out the necessary maintenance.
After the euphoria of the previous day’s victory, Janus van Kasteren faced new challenges in the eighth stage. On the first 70 km of the stage, he broke two wheels and was left without spares.
J.v.K.: “There were a lot of stones at the beginning of the special stage. We thought that our right front tire was going down, we could not maintain air pressure in it and at some point we decided to change it, as the temperature rose from 90 to 100 degrees. It is easier to change the wheel when the tire is still intact and not completely destroyed. When we stopped, we saw that there were problems with the left front tire. And after another twenty kilometers, the same story happened to the left rear, the mechanic Darek had to use the continuous tire inflation system all the way. ”
Despite all the adventures of the first week, Janus climbed to third position in the general classification at the end of the first half of the Dakar: Ales Loprais secured the first position, Martin van den Brink was just 16 minutes away, and van Kasteren was 38 minutes behind. Martin Macik was just 37 seconds away from Janus and the podium. A fairly tight fight for trucks – any stop was worth such a long-awaited place in the top 3!
Ninth stage: dash to the leaders of the raid with the steering wheel turned 90 degrees
On the very first day after the rest, Janus won the special stage and reduced the lead over Alyosha Loprais by 7 minutes, and due to Martin van den Brink stuck in the mud and water, Janus came in second after nine stages of the Dakar.
J.v.K.: “The day really started off in a dramatic way. Already at 10 km in the dunes, the tire flew off the disk, so we had to replace the wheel. It was very disappointing, I was just terribly disappointed. After about 100 kilometers there was a very large river, perhaps about 800 meters wide. Darek immediately lowered the tire pressure. Keeping to the right, I went at full speed without seeing anything all these 800 meters, I just pressed the pedal to the maximum. Turning left, we saw Martin van den Brink and Martin Macik stuck. We went back to try to help Martin, but we almost got stuck ourselves. We realized that this was not an option, we decided to move on. But the adventures continued: we bent the tie rod on the stones – the steering wheel turned at an angle of 90 degrees, but we still managed to reach the finish line and the first place became the award. I just didn’t expect it
And at night, news came that shocked all the participants in the cargo standings: Alesh Loprais, who was the leader of the classification, after celebrating his birthday in the evening, was awakened and called to the stewards, because he, without knowing it, ran into the viewer – and he later died in a helicopter on the way to the hospital . Alyosha was not allowed to start the next day. But the harsh reality is that the race continued without the Czech truck leader and Janus automatically took first place, but not in the way he would have liked. Janus finished the tenth stage in 3 positions, 1 minute behind the stage winner Pascal de Baar.
Marathon on the biggest dunes: bogged down and almost lost the lead on the 11th stage
The next stage was a marathon in the famous desert “Empty Quarter” (Rub al-Khali) with the largest dunes. Janus started third, skipping Martin van den Brink and Martin Macik according to the accepted team tactics, and Mitch van den Brink, who started second, also waited for his father to play the role of a fast technician for two crews. Macik lost a lot of time at the third checkpoint and everything went to the fact that the three trucks of the De Rooy team would take all three first places by the end of the day. But van Kasteren got stuck on the dune – fortunately, the fast technician Mitch was not far away and helped to get out. Janus lost 21 minutes, but kept the first place in the general classification, and his team-mate Martin van den Brink, who won the stage, pulled himself up, reducing the lead to 1 minute 12 seconds!
J.V.K.: “God, what a day! I had no idea that the organizers would make such a marathon day! What were the dunes! Lots of trucks got stuck today. We went down one ridge of the dune and then nose-dived into another. When we tried to rake the sand with shovels, even more sand poured into this place. Luckily Mitch got us out. I’m in first place now. All or nothing for the remaining three days. We need to do everything we can to keep things from getting worse.”
The second marathon stage fell on Friday the 13th and could bring a lot of trouble: it again ran through large and difficult dunes. But luck smiled at Janus: he won the day, and his teammates Mitch and Martin came second and third. In fact, on this day, the intrigue in the truck standings in the fight for first place ended: Martin lost 31 minutes due to problems with the box, and his gap from Janus increased to 32 minutes. Their Czech opponent at Iveco Martin Macik finished fourth, 32 minutes back, 1 hour 20 minutes behind the leader.
J.V.K.: “Great day! We rode together with Martin for about 20 kilometers, then there were really hard dunes with heavy climbs. At one point we drove past Macik, and Gerard de Rooy, standing on the dune and watching us, even waved and gave signals that helped us reach the top. Just super day! I think we have taken a good step towards winning the Dakar. This is our best day on the Dakar – especially when we crossed the dunes at full throttle.”
2 final stages: holding on to competitors without risk
The victory at the stage was celebrated by Martin Macik, and Janus was 3 minutes 25 seconds behind him. But the crew of Martin van den Brink missed second place that day, finishing in 19th position and losing 2 hours and 13 minutes due to problems with the gearbox. They had to add oil to the box and drive the last 100 km without a reverse gear, which is quite difficult in the dunes.
J.v.K.: “We will rejoice only after we cross the finish line. Today all day there were only dunes and we drove them all at full throttle. The sand was loose, another tough day. At some point, we got stuck, Macik passed us, but we got out and were able to catch up with him thanks to the good navigational skills of my navigator Marseille. Right up to the finish line, we held on to Macik.”
Of the 55 trucks that started, only 15 reached the final stage and did not get penalties for not completing the special stages. . He showed the seventh time in trucks, 6 minutes and 1 second behind the Lithuanian pilot in the Tatra.
Janus van Kasteren won his first Dakar, the fifth truck title for the Netherlands (first by Jan De Rooy, second by Hans Stacey and two by Gerard de Rooy). The second place was taken by Martin Macik, and the third by Martin van den Brink. His son Mitch finished fourth in the final standings.
I.v.k. “The final stage was very slippery, but we kept calm. At the finish line, a super party with mechanics was waiting for us. Of course, this is a new feeling for me. Looking back, I can say that it was a wonderful race. At the beginning I had problems, but the second half I could go very fast. I just have an indescribable delight.”