Every January sees a major sporting event pitting trucks in the desert against the world’s best in the Dakar Rally. This year’s edition of the epic challenge takes place for the first time in Saudi Arabia and explores the vast expanses of the largest country in the Middle East.
The trucks involved have to travel a total of 7,500 km, including 5,000 km of special stages, five of them longer than 450 km. In a country where the desert is king, 75 per cent of the rally will be over sand, something which Saudi Arabia can provide in large quantities and plenty of variation.
The Dakar Rally started back in 1978 and was originally staged from Paris to Dakar in Senegal, however, by 2008 security threats in the North African desert country of Mauritania, saw the cancellation of the event. From 2009 to 2019 was moved to be held in South America.
However, the 2020 edition is taking place in Saudi Arabia. The distances of each stage covered vary from short distances up to and beyond a gruelling 800km per day.
The truck class was first run as a separate category in 1980, is made up of vehicles weighing more than 3,500 kg. Trucks participating in the competition are subdivided into Series Production trucks and Modified trucks, plus a number of trucks which are simply rally support trucks, which travel from rest stop to rest stop in support of the other competition vehicles.
Early on in the story of trucks in the Dakar event twin engines generating in excess of 1000 horsepower began to compete, but were deemed too dangerous following the death of a DAF crew member in an accident during the 1988 rally.
Kamaz has dominated the truck category in the last twenty years, although it has had to compete hard to keep ahead of other serious contenders from Iveco, MAN, Renault, and Tatra. Hino have also competed hard, entering into the truck class for trucks with engines below 10 litres.
At the moment, Hino Team Sugawara’s entry driven by Teruhito Sugawara sits at 11th place overall in the open trucks category as of the end of the first half of the race.
Although these trucks in the desert which compete are far from the kind of vehicle the brands sell for on road use, the event is a useful one for taking components like engines to their limit and helping to improve all round durability of designs and individual parts.