Dakar 2024: Aleš Loprais wins final two stages and finishes second place overall
The long wait is over. Aleš Loprais returns to the Dakar Rally podium in the truck category. After 15 daring attempts, lots of hard work, great performances, but also too much bad luck, he can finally enjoy the reward and satisfaction. After the previous third place in 2007, when Dakar was still in Africa, he now adds a silver-finishing position in Saudi Arabia. For his navigator Jaroslav Valtr Jr. and mechanic Jiří Stross, it is their first Dakar Rally trophy.
On Thursday, January 18, the popular rally raid marathon continued with a penultimate stage from Al Ula to Yanbu. The 529-kilometre-long stage, out of which 420 kilometres were timed, featured rough and broken terrain full of holes, bumps, and stones of various sizes and shapes. The risks of getting a tyre puncture were high, and there were also sections with dangerous broken dunes or tricky vegetation.
“We were expecting a lot, but this was even worse!” laughs Aleš Loprais in the bivouac after more than five hours on the route with his navigator Jaroslav Valtr Jr. and mechanic Jiří Stross.
“The beginning was good, and we passed two trucks. Then there was a lot of dust, stones, jumps, holes and fesh fesh. It was all just totally broken, and we also dealt with vegetation,” the Czech driver continues.
“At that point, we were running as the first truck on the road, so it was on us to clean the way for everyone, but I didn’t want to slow down. The first victims were the mirrors, then the left windshield, followed by the right side. And we were getting hit directly by various thorns from the trees. It was about surviving. With 80 kilometres to go, we had to change the rear tyre for a tread separation issue. It simply didn’t endure the load of such high speed,” Loprais adds.
But that was not the end for the Instaforex Loprais Praga Team, as the Praga V4S DKR finished the stage on just three wheels. While three tyres somewhat survived, one wheel disc was basically bare.
“Right before the end, I felt another tyre. It was losing pressure, and then right before the end, the right front tyre exploded, so we finished on a disc. Just keeping the steering wheel steady was a nightmare, but it worked out. We finished 5 minutes to 12 because the wheel disc was completely hot. If we had kept going, it would have fallen apart completely. It was a very nervous finish, but that made us even happier. While we didn’t reduce our gap as much as we needed, it’s an experience we won’t forget any time soon. I think the onboard video will be worth it,” says Loprais as he cannot stop smiling – despite all the issues, he and his crew won the stage five minutes ahead of Martin Macík Jr.
It was the fifth Dakar Rally start for the red and black Praga V4S DKR truck. The Czech crew #602 was fighting at the top of the truck category from the beginning. After finishing second in the prologue, the team dropped to fourth place after the first stage. However, it took the crew only a day to return to the top three positions, and they never left them again.
At the end of the Dakar Rally, Aleš Loprais, with Jaroslav Valtr Jr. and Jiří Stross, proved their pace by taking two stage victories. After yesterday’s success, there was nobody faster in the final stage either. The last twelfth stage, which took place on Friday, January 19, had a 174-kilometre-long special stage around Yanbu. The Czech team won by a minute and a half ahead of Jaroslav Valtr Sr.
In the final truck classification, Aleš Loprais and his crew finished in second place overall. The Instaforex Loprais Praga Team lost one hour and 54 minutes to the winner Martin Macík Jr. and beat Mitchel van den Brink in third position by two and a half hours.
“It’s tough to rate it all so shortly after finishing. Sure, I’m going to need some time, but I’m certain about one thing: hats off to everyone in the team. The whole crew welded together very quickly and worked hard throughout the whole rally. Thanks, guys,” says Jaroslav Valtr Jr., appreciating the team’s effort.
“For me personally, it’s the first finished Dakar, so that’s good. But I’d wish, for Aleš, that it was that one place better,” he smiles.
For Aleš Loprais, it was his eighteenth Dakar Rally start and his ninth finish in the Top 10. After two seventh, two sixth, two fifth, one fourth, and one third place, he adds his best result to date with a second position.
“First, I’d like to thank the whole team for their great effort and our families, partners and fans for their incredible support. We really appreciate it. For me personally, it was a difficult return after last year’s Dakar Rally, so I’m glad that me and the crew have made it. I had wished to finish even better, but that wasn’t possible. But I’m grateful for the result, and big thanks to everyone,” says Aleš Loprais.