The Dakar Rally is a massive operation, therefore it requires more working hands and ingenious minds than any other cross-country rally of the season. This year, the team backing up the Red Bull KTM Factory Riders included 33 members, achieving a historical result under the command of new team leader, Jordi Viladoms. We talked to five of those who joined the orange family only for Dakar.
They came to Lima to take care of riders, team, trucks, motorhomes, and KTM customers. How did they join KTM´s Dakar operation, and what are their roles? How was it once upon a time in Africa, what has changed, what has remained exactly the same, and what’s love got to do with it?
August Linortner, truck driver
“I did my first Dakar in 1997. We had a satellite phone the size of luggage we would use only as a last resort. We were travelling without much information, yet that was not our main concern. The truck was too heavy, and it was the truck driver’s first Dakar,” he laughs, pointing at himself. “We were learning how to survive the Dakar as we were doing it. Several times in Mauritania, it took 24 hours from bivouac to bivouac. It was unreal! That place sure wasn’t gentle on our truck; it’s the most arid, unforgiving country you can imagine. We broke everything possible, finishing the African Dakars with completely destroyed trucks. When it came to big repairs, we mostly relied on miracles. Surprise, surprise – they do happen in Africa!”
Even though Africa was tough, his eyes light up: “Africa gave us all a feeling of complete freedom. Nothing was granted, nothing was easy, and communication was a real challenge. But people inside and outside the bivouacs were all incredibly friendly. Of course, the Dakar has changed a lot recently. Distances have shortened considerably, motorhomes are now loaded with fresh fruits, the coffee machine is always within reach and assistance always on time. On the other hand, the Dakar will never be easy. I still feel the sense of adventure, and working for such a team is a dream come true.”
Before he ventured offroad, the ex-road racer was working for Mike Leitner. Later on, he changed disciplines, yet his work remained more or less the same. “I am taking care of the motorsport fleet trucks, all together there are 15 trucks under my watch. Besides that, I am the handy man of the motorsport building. I solve practically everything,” says a life-long Dakar university student. “I left school at 15, I got my hands dirty and my passion for bikes brought me to the Dakar. This is the university I am still enrolled at, collecting the craziest memories of my life, like all students do.”
Tom Haider, personal assistant
“This is the third Dakar of my life,” says Tom, preparing the motorhome for Hiasi, nickname for Matthias, and Luciano, the two riders sharing the Dakar home for 10 days. “I’ve known Hiasi for a very long time. We met on the motocross track, where else? We love the same sport, but he is obviously from a different league. I started late, but still competed on national level. Well, occasionally I still put on my riding gear if I am not doing up some old car,” laughs the 34-year-old IT specialist from Salzburg.
His story of how he became a mechanic specialized for hard cases, is full of wisdom and therefore, worth sharing. “I was 19 and I´d just bought my first car. It was an old Audi Quattro, with some issues, of course. I took it to the workshop where they were supposed to repair it, but I wasn’t happy with the work done. And even less pleased with the huge amount of money they wanted from me! I was discussing it with the workshop owner, trying to negotiate and lower the price, because I didn’t want to pay for their mistake, when the owner had enough and said to me: ‘Ok, go, but if you don’t like our work, you will have to do it on your own.’ And I did it. Years later, I was thinking about what he said to me and realized how valuable that was. It gave me the power to think that nothing is too difficult for me, and that I can learn all by myself,” remembers Tom.
So, he did repair his car. He repaired other people’s cars, mostly old ones with complicated issues. He even built himself a racecar. And all that knowledge brought him all the way to rally sport. For his first race, he prepared during the flight. “I had 40, 50 pages of car instructions and the flight was long enough to study them,” laughs Tom, but admits it was no walk in the park; rally cars are super expensive and you need to be very precise.
In contrast to his job where he dealt with rally cars, he didn’t need to study much for the Dakar. Matthias needed somebody to help him, and Tom was perfect for the job. Still, to take care of a rider 24 hours a day: to wake him up, bring him breakfast, help him dress, assist him to get started, and then repeat everything in reverse order when he returns to the bivouac, is not his “only” job. Tom is also the on-duty handy man, responsible for all the motorhomes. “I am here for the whole team,” explains Tom. “Though my main priority is Matthias. I have a lot of work with him, because he knows very well what he wants, but that’s also a reason why working for him is easy.”
Miquel Pujol, responsible for spare parts
Miquel’s Dakar journey begins on the Lisboa-Dakar route in 2006. He was 23 when the invitation arrived, and caught him eager to explore the Dark Continent. He comes from the same village as the Dakar legend Marc Coma, so the path to the rally was a short one.
“Basically, Marc recruited me and introduced me to the rally team. At the time, Trunkenpolz was running the team, and 2006 was also the year when our team manager made his debut. That year, Andy Caldecott replaced the injured Jordi Duran, so I took care of his bike. We all know what happened to Andy on January 9, 2006. My first Dakar! I felt completely devastated. The next year, Jordi Viladoms had a big crash, and we again returned home with a bitter taste in our mouths. But that was Africa, it always took its toll. Fortunately, nowadays it happens less,” he says with relief, and adds: “But the most incredible thing is that the core of the team has stuck together all these years. Stefan is still here, as are Rolli, August, Miki and Jordi.”
After a break of several years, Miquel made his comeback to the team, and to the Dakar, which in 2009 had switched continents. A few years ago, he would make his own switch from mechanic to spare parts manager, now having approximately 1000 spare parts under his wing. Happy to be part of the KTM Dakar team, he explains: “I didn’t study to work as a mechanic, I am an industrial engineer, but when Marc offered me a job, I grabbed the opportunity to enter motorsports with both hands. The greatest power of KTM is the team spirit. We work like a family, you can feel it. Sure, in the past there was a big rivalry between the French and Spanish teams. Fights between Cyril and Marc were also difficult for the team. Now the air we breathe is lighter, even if the Dakar is always tough. It doesn’t matter how long it is or where we race, it’s still the most unpredictable race in the world.”
When the nights are extremely short, Miquel sleeps on the truck, under the stars. When the nights are a bit longer, he might put up the tent. Sometimes, during the night, he would also become nostalgic. Speaking of the joy of being part of the orange family, during the rally expeditions he misses his own. “Sure I want to be a good dad, but it’s not easy with this job. We are away a lot, and this is the major downside. My son is almost three years old and starts to feel my absence.” It’s not the best consolation, but to live your life with two families?
Photos: Marcin Kin