Most of us know the Dakar as the ultimate challenge between the event’s superheroes – Peterhansel, Loeb and Sainz taking on de Villiers, al Attiyah and Hirvonen in an epic Peugeot versus Toyota versus Mini war over two weeks and 10 000 epic kilometres of extreme desert, altitude and weather…
But there’s another Dakar to a lot of people – the seemingly impossible dream where everyday men and women make their own plans to get to South America to fulfil what is in many cases, a lifelong ambition every January and for Hennie de Klerk, Gerhard Schutte and the TreasuryOne VW Amarok team, 6 January 2018 will represent the culmination of an incredible effort to realise that Dakar dream.
It has not been a simple mission for Brits businessman de Klerk and his team – the only South African privateer entry in Dakar 2018 is about to deliver on what once seemed an impossible mission. Five years ago, then track racer Hennie started scratching around to learn more about how to actually get up and go do the Dakar.
The advice was simple – get involved and climb the cross country racing ladder step by step. And that’s exactly what Mr. de Klerk did.
Hennie spent two years racing a Toyota Hilux on the local cross country scene before stepping up to a BMW X3. Then he and WCT Engineering embarked on a project to build a vehicle good enough to tackle the Dakar and Hennie’s 5-litre V8 Amarok was born…
That’s no mean feat – just getting to the start in Lima, Peru is a mission all on its own (remember the Dakar races in South America these days), never mind the half-million rand entry fee and the massive logistical undertaking to go race through the desert and mountains half the world away.
Dakar requires non-stop concentration and endurance over among the world’s harshest terrain, though deserts and over the tallest mountains – in fact half the race is run at altitudes of around 4000m – that’s double the highest points in SA! Less than fifty of the 100 cars entered are likely to finish in a good year, but Hennie and the TreasuryOne team is hell bent on achieving just that – to finish the Dakar on debut.
Hennie’s Dakar effort was however made all that much more achievable when he drove the TreasuryOne Amarok to win the Dakar Challenge on the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race in June with Achim Bergmann at his side, to secure a free entry to Dakar 2018. De Klerk and Bergmann were the only Dakar Challenge crew to finish to lift the prize, but that feat brought another challenge altogether…
The Toyota SA-sponsored Dakar Challenge prize includes the cost to enter the Dakar Rally, along with the transport and logistics of getting the vehicle there, but it meant that the TreasuryOne Amarok had to be Dakar-ready to ship to South America via France in October – barely four months later!
The team worked frantically to ready the Amarok, its chase vehicle and all the spares and equipment in time to get it all to France and aboard the Dakar ship. It also meant that Hennie had to skip the Harrismith SA Cross Country Finale as the team worked flat out to meet the deadline.
There was also much to consider to be logistically and part of the preparation is that as a Class T truck, the Amarok must race on standard production tyres and Hennie has made a change of rubber for the Dakar, opting for more aggressive Cooper Discoverer STT Pro tyres instead of the S/T Maxxes he used to scoop his entry in the local series.
Cooper has supplied 32 tyres to go into the T5 racing truck that will carry all the TreasuryOne team’s spares and equipment through the Dakar from bivouac to bivouac each evening, while the service crew will travel in an SUV the team has sent over and now it’s just a matter of Hennie and the team jetting in to Peru for final preparations and the start of that lifelong dream…
“It’s been a hell of a trip so far, but that’s nothing on what awaits us in South America on January 6!” Hennie smiled. “It’s been five years in the making, but we are ready to live the Dakar dream – it seems impossible, but we are ready to roll!
“Conditions in South America are quite different to what we have here in SA; for starters, the bulk of this Dakar will be driven over a sea of sand and dunes and the biggest challenge is how to read those dunes. “We’ve been out dune testing locally and worked hard on sand driving preparation – if you tackle a dune too fast, you can roll head-first over the other side, but if you don’t charge the dune fast enough, you could get hung up on the crest and lose precious time.
“Most importantly, we have done everything we can in a pretty short time and now it’s just a matter of setting up that side and racing the Dakar. “We would like to take the opportunity to thank all our supporters and sponsors – both in getting here through SA Cross Country and coming up on the Dakar – it’s a big ask, but we are all set – bring it on!”
The  40th edition Dakar and the 10th to be raced in South America starts on the Pacific coast of Lima, Peru on 6 January 2018 and heads via the dunes into the Bolivian Andes mountains before a midway rest day in La Paz. From there it’s more mountains, fez-fez and sand down to the finish in Córdoba, Argentina where Hennie de Klerk, Gerhard Schutte and the team hope to put the TreasuryOne Amarok on the Dakar 2018 finishing podium come Saturday 20 January.