How a veteran conquered Dakar

How a veteran conquered Dakar

MOTORSPORT

One of the closely watched participants in this year’s Dakar Rally was a ŠKODA 130 LR. Although it took part in the veterans’ category and had an experienced crew, it was this ŠKODA model’s first-ever start in the desert race.

16. 2. 2021

Even so, the venerable ŠKODA 130 LR did much better than expected, successfully coming through incredible challenges, even though it had never been in the desert before, let alone in the punishing Dakar Rally.

“The car was pushed to its limits: we covered over nine hundred kilometres some days, so there’s not much time for stripping down the car and putting it back together again. Although the components were made to the original design out of modern materials, fatigue is unavoidable. And few people get through an event as tough as that without any breakdowns. Things go wrong even on the most rugged, specially made vehicles. What’s more, our car was a veteran. And there’s one more thing you have to realise: it’s a race, not a beauty pageant. Our goal was not simply to cross the finishing line: we were racing, so we didn’t go easy. That’s not even possible, in fact. You can’t slow down, otherwise you’d get stuck in the sand all the time,” says driver Ondřej Klymčiw. He and his navigator Petr Vlček were not new to the Dakar Rally: both had taken part in the event four times before. On motorbikes. 

Ondřej Klymčiw: You can’t slow down on the Dakar Rally, otherwise you’ll get stuck.

“When we told the other competitors, they laughed and said that it wasn’t fair because we already knew the ropes. But it didn’t feel like it, certainly not at the start. It took a long time to get our teamwork up to scratch. We’re both used to doing our own navigation using detailed roadbooks. I’d never had a navigator before and Petr had to learn how to read the instructions,” Klymčiw says.

Klymciw_HAVEX-10Ondřej Klymčiw

Interestingly, it was average times that counted. One of the criteria is that the car has to arrive at a checkpoint at a precise time. GPS is used to measure the cars’ speed during a stretch, but the competitors don’t know where. It’s not so much a race against the clock but with the clock. So the idea is to stick to the prescribed constant speed at all times, but that’s wishful thinking in such tough conditions.

Dakar Classic

This year’s Dakar Rally included the premiere of the Dakar Classic category, which featured 25 teams, three of them in trucks. The organisers set a different course for the classic vehicles – such as an original Mitsubishi Pajero Evo, Sunhill buggy or Porsche 911 SC, but the terrain was just as uneven and punishing as the race proper.

Track-side assistance 

What setbacks can Klymčiw remember? “The first thing to break was the gearbox. That threw us a bit: you can’t help asking yourself if it was your fault, if you did something wrong. The frustration is enough to make you weep. But the good thing was that it happened when we were over halfway through the stage. The rules say that if you finish at least half the stage you can race again the next day. Even so, the repair work was stressful,” he says.

Servicing a car at night while the drivers get some rest before the next stage.

The team took the second fault – a broken seal under the cylinder head – in their stride. “We knew we would do everything we could. We took out the water pump and checked if there were kinks in any of the hoses and stuff like that. And the third fault made us laugh – we were overtaken by our own wheel. The screws snapped off. We knew there was no point getting stressed out and that simply we had to wait for the big service truck to come past. We hoped they’d lend us an angle grinder and some screws that would fit. So we sat there and waited,” he says, laughing.

The best was left to last

The ŠKODA veteran notched up one particularly superb achievement: first place on the sixth stage. In addition, the crew racked up three third-place finishes. But Ondřej Klymčiw’s fondest memory is of the very end of the race, the final stage. 

The ŠKODA 130 LR was made in the 1980s for the world rally championships.

“By then I’d learnt how to drive the car a bit: I had the knack of driving in sand and performing controlled skids, and I knew how hard I could push the car. The terrain of the final stage was magnificent, so we really enjoyed it, and we even came second in the last two time trials. I’ll never forget crossing the finishing line. We were glad we had a Czech flag with us. We took some photos, and a short while later we had ten thousand likes on Facebook. It’s great that people followed our progress, supported us and shared the experience with us. Our videos have been watched over a hundred thousand times, and people watch all the way to the end. It’s incredible and actually quite moving,” the rally driver concludes, before adding that he’d like to compete again next year with a bigger team.

Desert-ready 

The ŠKODA 130 LR was made in the 1980s as a works car for the rally world championships, which helped it qualify for this Dakar Rally even though it had never taken part before. The organisers wanted to see if it still had its original looks and could handle the desert terrain.

Special off-road wheels make it possible to reduce the tyre pressure so the car can get out of deep sand.

The car was given a modified gearbox with a limited slip differential and gearing suitable for the Dakar Rally. The air filter system was modified and mechanics raised its ground clearance as much as possible. The geometry of the front axle was also reworked. As the original diagrams and calculations were available, it was possible to calculate precisely the drive position and axle kinematics. Another issue was how to prepare the car for high temperatures: there was a risk of the gearbox overheating during time trials that covered two hundred kilometres and more, so a separate cooling circuit was installed. The water cooling system was modified by doubling the capacity of the front radiator and fitting two ventilators controlled by a thermostat or manually by the driver. 

The car is powered by the original aluminium-head engine enlarged to 1.4 litres and served by two Weber carburettors. The crankshaft is stronger, the engine was given dry-sump lubrication, and the intake system was changed to a carbon-fibre design.

The car is powered by the original aluminium-head engine, enlarged to 1.4 litres.

The choice of tyres was a big problem. To keep the car authentic and not like a buggy it wasn’t possible to use tyres with a diameter bigger than 620 millimetres. Anything bigger wouldn’t fit in the mudguard. Nor would special off-road wheels that make it possible to reduce the pressure in the tyres to help the car get out of deep sand. So tyres designed for stone tracks had to be used.

Other kit included two spare tyres, a fuel tank enlarged to 85 litres, a pair of wheel ramps, shovels and spare parts. As a result, the car weighs over a tonne, compared to the original rally car’s weight of just over seven hundred kilograms.

Ondřej Klymčiw (*1985)

He started out as a dragster racer, winning a number of titles and setting several national records that remain unbroken to this day. That was followed by a successful career in motocross. He started notching up successes in enduro races at home and abroad. After the surprising result of a seventh-place finish in the 2013 Tuareg Rally, his desire to try out the toughest race in the world, the Dakar Rally, grew stronger and stronger. He made his race debut in 2015 and did unexpectedly well: twentieth place overall, eighth place out of the non-factory entrants and second place among first-timers. He started the next year’s event well too, staying in and around the twelfth place until the tenth stage. But then he had a nasty crash that left him with a broken pelvis and a punctured lung. He confounded the doctors’ expectations by returning to training just six months after the crash.

He came eleventh in the 2017 Dakar Rally, just 37 seconds outside the top ten. To this day, that ranking is the second best Czech two-wheeler result at the Dakar Rally. 2018 was another nightmare year: another crash resulted in four crushed vertebrae, three cardiac arrests and three torn arteries supplying blood to the brain. For the doctors, it was a miracle he survived. Kept in hospital in Prague, he didn’t regain consciousness until February 16 – his birthday. After that brush with death, he now celebrates his birthday on January 8, the day of the crash. And this year’s Dakar Rally was the best present he could have asked for.

Source: ondrejklymciw.cz

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