Lords of Sand

They conquer the desert
Heat, dust, packed meal instead of proper lunch... Any rally raid participant can add to this “cocktail” many more ingredients that turn a sport event into a survival exam. It is becoming more difficult with every passing year and therefore more popular. “After Formula One the rally raids with their culmination — the famous Paris-Dakar — are the most famous and profitable kind of motor racing attracting a lot of viewers and sponsors”, — the Belarusian sportsman Sergey Shkel and his Lithuanian steersman Antanas Yuknyavichus, on behalf of the national motor racing, have made their “desert” debut this year. Close to success. “Close” because after their worthy performance in Tunis and Egypt in the “Pharaohs’ Rally” (The 8th place in the second in their life “sand” rally!), they didn’t go to the next Paris-Dakar rally as they had projected... for the participation in the most prestigious rally Paris-Dakar their organizers charge the participants about $15,000. The actual expenses incurred by the participants of “Dakar” are 30 times more, and the fundraising proved to be a much more difficult task than driving at 150 km/h across the barchans. “It is a bit vexing”, sighs Sergey. “But even without “Dakar” this year for us has been rich in different impressions and, what is more important, it has been very effective”. Of these impressions and plans for the future the Belarusian desert pioneer seems to be able to talk endlessly.

— Rally raids are a science of its own. Besides, in order to drive a car, one should be able to “read” sands and monitor the wind... Moreover, the sun is so dazzling that by midday you fail to discern the landscape — there are only a yellow and a blue stripes before your eyes. And there are no two similar races in the sands, you know: the relief constantly changes and it is impossible to memorize it. Ascending the next hill you often do not know what awaits you behind it: a road or a steep fall. During the rally in Egypt we had to descend from the dunes at the angle of 45 degrees from the height of a 40-storeyed house! A couple of times we even had to remove stones to clear way... In general, very different people come to participate in the rallies: in the “Pharaohs’ Rally” an old-aged motorcyclist took part...

By the way, he finished and did it well, though, actually, the evacuation helicopter had a very busy schedule. During the first day about 20 motorcyclists dropped out of the rally because of a heatstroke, one of the Russian motor crews had a water bottle exploded — it had boiled. For the Russians, this race was quite ambiguous. On the one hand, Andrei Ivanov came fourth. On the other hand, Sergey Sukhovenko ditched his car on the last day of the races — the forth one for this year already. Taking into account the fact that each “fighting” vehicle costs about $200,000 — 300,000, one can imagine how costly altogether it was for them...

Fortunately, we managed to avoid any serious damage: we had a couple of punctured tyres and had to change both bridges — they had got bent. At the general background these are just trifles.

— Yes, the budget is high and one has to justify it somehow. By one’s results. Was it hard to adapt to the unusual environment?

— It certainly was. Thanks Yuknyavichus — he had already had some experience of participating in rally raids including Paris-Dakar and at first he explained to me a lot sharing the twists and turns of sand rallies. But anyway, it is very difficult to compete head-to-head. The financial reason is not the least one. At “Dakar”, for instance, a day’s budget of the leaders of the prototype category, to which our “Bowler” also belongs, is about 1 mln Euro. Nevertheless we are going to take part in a number of big raids next year and, should we find a possibility, in “Dakar” too.

— Some time ago the idea of participating in “Dakar” on trucks was considered in Belarus. That attempt was unsuccessful for a number of reasons. Aren’t you afraid that the same fate awaits your beginning as well?

— Why should it? We have coped with the most of “Dakar”: Tunis and Egypt are included into this raid‘s route. There are Libya and Morocco left. And everywhere we reached the finish, by the way, not with the worst results. This is a speaking fact. At such races even the leaders do not think of the final result. There is the only goal — to make the finish.

— Success is good, but it was planned that the Belarusian team will take part in the famous rally as soon as on 1 January. Why did the plans change?

— First of all, there is no vehicle — it will arrive only in February. And secondly, there are no funds. In order to participate in “Dakar” we need at least 250,000 — 300,000 Euros. We have no such financial support.

— And what about the company that allegedly was to sponsor your participation?

— This is just a company where I work, as well as several other persons who used to go in for jeep-trial. Its founder is Latvian and it was him who made the decision of sponsorship. But they cannot carry the load of sponsoring the Belarusian team alone all the time. Especially in view of the fact that in Latvia motor sport is better-developed than in Belarus. They are willing to render assistance in the future as well, but there should be some interest on our part.

— Do you mean the Federation?

— All the jeep-trials are a domain of the Off-Road Committee established by me. It is we who persuaded the International Motor Sport Federation to entrust Belarus with hosting the race of Bakha World Championship. The Competition “Bakha Belarus–2006” — in fact, a shortened rally raid — will be held in July next year on Borisov proving ground where a most sophisticated route has been marked. At present we are having organizational matters settled. If the international observers like our work, they will transfer here one of the periods of the rally raid world championship, in which the leading racers of today will take part! This will be a great breakthrough for the Belarusian motor sport, because neither in Russia nor in Latvia or anywhere else within the post-soviet countries any competitions of such a high level have ever been held.

Dmitry Komashko
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