Dakar 2024: Aleš Loprais still trucking at Stage Six
On Tuesday, January 9, 2024, Aleš Loprais, Jaroslav Valtr Jr. and Jiří Stross took their first stage win together at Dakar Rally. Their Praga V4S DKR was the fastest truck on the route from Al Duwadimi to Al Salamiya, and they were also fast enough to move ahead of Janus van Kasteren, last year’s winner, to take the lead in the overall standings.
The Dakar Rally 2024 competitors faced a long 634-kilometre route from Al Duwadimi to Al Salamiya, including 437-kilometre-long special stage. The route offered stony riverbeds full of tricky holes and humps. After that followed a sandy terrain in canyons and between rocks before crews’ skills were tested in fast gravel routes, technical sections, and another dose of tricky stones of various sizes. The competitors also enjoyed some dune sections, which, for the first time, also saw challenging climbs. And just like in previous days, the crews also faced a difficult navigation.
“This was the most difficult stage we’ve had here. Very rough dunes. On three occasions, we couldn’t get across a dune on the first try, and we had to try several times from various directions. There was so much dust, stones, holes, and jumps,” describes Aleš Loprais, who, together with his crew, handled the first half of the marathon stage very successfully.
From the first checkpoint, the Praga truck number 602 clung in second place. And halfway through the stage, right after the dunes, the crew even moved up into the lead. And they remained on top until the end, despite spending the final fourth of the special stage in the dust behind one of the vehicles they had caught up with.
Tuesday’s special stage should be fast, with “only” 299 kilometres. And hopefully, because it is the second half of the marathon stage, it will feature little bit easier route than the Dakar Rally 2024 competitors faced in previous days.
The 698-kilometre-long fourth stage of the Dakar Rally 2024 led from Al Salamiya to Al-Hofuf, with 299 kilometres counting as a special stage. While crews of all categories achieved some very high average speeds, they still faced plenty of challenging navigational points and tricky places requiring full concentration.
“Thanks to a victory in yesterday’s stage, we could enjoy the 10-minute gap between the categories today. And that was great. Then we got into a stony passage. It was very dusty there, so we slowed down a little. There we had to look for one specific waypoint, and I must highlight Jaroslav Valtr’s efforts, as we found it thanks to him, and it wasn’t easy. Not everyone managed to do so,”says Aleš Loprais, praising the efforts of his navigator.
At the end of the stage, van Kasteren had returned to the lead in the truck category. However, Aleš Loprais, with Jaroslav Valtr Jr. and Jiří Stross, held on to second place after four out of 12 stages, just 5 minutes and 17 seconds behind the leading Dutch crew.
On Wednesday, January 10, the Dakar Rally 2024 continued from Al-Hofuf to Shubaytah with a 645-kilometre-long stage. First, the crews had to travel over 500 kilometres over a road section before they finally reached a special stage. It was relatively short, with 118 kilometres, but still challenging, as it took place exclusively in the Empty Quarter.
However, due to technical issues during the stage, the #602 Praga V4S DKR truck finished more than 40 minutes behind the winner.
“Our starter broke down, so we lost half an hour in the dunes. It was a battle for survival, so a bit hectic as well. But we’re glad we had found the issue, replaced the component and pushed the truck to the finish,” says Aleš Loprais, who did not hide a massive relief.
“It’s even closer in the top 3 now. While Van Kasteren made a bigger gap in the lead, we’re still only in the fifth stage, so we will try to push as hard as we can. Hopefully, we’ll have more luck from now again.”
The Instaforex Loprais Praga Team crew was also given a five-minute penalty for exceeding the maximum allowed top speed in a zone with an active limiter. While that happened on Monday already, it took until Wednesday before it was announced. Thus, Aleš Loprais, Jaroslav Valtr Jr. and Jiří Stross lost their Stage Three victory and dropped to second place in its results.
The Dakar Rally 2024 continues on Thursday, January 11, and Friday, January 12, with an unusual two-day Stage Six with a loop around Shubaytah. Cars and trucks face a 765-kilometre route, out of which 549 kilometres are timed.
As the stage leads through dunes in Empty Quarter, the crews must deal with soft sand and difficult and long climbs on dunes. But they also need to be aware of broken dunes with the vehicles facing steep descents after reaching the peak. However, it is just as tricky to fall into funnels behind the dunes there, which are not often easily seen from the peaks. And just like in previous days, there are also still navigational challenges.
However, the biggest speciality of the stage lies in its format. On Thursday, the crews could race only until 4pm, after which they had to stop at the closest improvised bivouac, one of seven along the route. There, they are completely isolated from the outside world, with any communication outside of the bivouac strictly prohibited. That leaves crews knowing very little about how they or their competitors did on the first day, as some crews sleep even in different bivouacs.
The Praga V4S DKR of the Instaforex Loprais Praga Team began its journey more than a half hour later than its competitors mentioned above. So, after 4pm, the team had to stop at the 294th kilometre at the Break Zone B. Aleš Loprais, Jaroslav Valtr Jr. and Jiří Stross now must spend a night with several bike riders, car crews and five truck crews, including Janus van Kasteren. The Dutch driver and his team were leading the truck overall standings before the two-day stage.
The last checkpoint to feature all the fastest truck crews was in Break Zone B. The last standings showed Loprais sitting in third place, 39 minutes behind leading Macík, and 25 minutes behind van den Brink in second position.
However, there is still a long way to go in this Chrono 48 Stage. The two trucks that have gone the furthest will have to drive 200 kilometres on Friday, and those spending the night in bivouac B, including the Instaforex Loprais Praga Team crew, will have to do 53 kilometres more than them…