Jan 02, 2017
The trucks of Petronas Team De Rooy Iveco drove to scrutineering in Asunción in a downpour. The weather forecast for the start of the 2017 Dakar shows plenty more rain to come. “We will have to wait and see, but it doesn’t look good,” Gerard de Rooy says. “Then again, it’s the same for everyone. I’ll fit the rain tyres and see what happens.”
As defending champion, Gerard de Rooy was the centre of attention during scrutineering. “It’s a great feeling to come here with the number 500 plate on the Iveco. There’s no extra pressure. I won’t be doing anything much different to last year. The aim is not to lose too much time in the first week, and then attack in the second week. I definitely won’t be going all out in the first few days. In the rain, with greasy mud on narrow trails, you have everything to lose. I don’t have to win the first stage. I don’t even have to be in the top five, because nobody’s going to gain minutes of advantage here. Stay inside the top 10 and keep everything in one piece, that’s the first objective.”
Team De Rooy had a shakedown yesterday (Friday) to make sure the trucks had survived the sea journey from Le Havre in one piece. “To test the headphones and microphones, adjust the harnesses with our race suits on. Details like that matter,” De Rooy explains. “We checked the tripmasters over thoroughly as well, because my navigator Moi Torrallardona is a bit nervous about the new navigation regulations. It’s going to be tough with the new rules, but it will be fairer for everyone. The organisation have banned smartphones in the truck. That’s to prevent navigators from loading the maps onto them and then checking to see what it looks like on Google Maps. I think it’s good that they are more strict about that.”
Villagra: An outsider no more
Last year, Federico Villagra started the race as an outsider, but after finishing third on his debut in the trucks, the Argentinian is one of the favourites for the 2017 Dakar. He is happy to be part of Team De Rooy, with the Powerstar in the colours of his new Argentinian sponsor. “Everything was new for us last year,” Villagra explains. “We learned a lot from that. This year, we approached some areas differently. We trained a lot harder, for example, to be better prepared physically for the race and for the altitude. This year, we hope we won’t make the same mistakes we did last year, so we don’t lose the time we did.”
Like De Rooy, Villagra doesn’t believe that race will be decided in the first week. As an ex-WRC rally driver, he made up a lot of time on the fast tracks last year, but things will be different now. “I think there will be some stages shortened or cancelled in the first few days, because of the rain. The mud here is really greasy. That makes it dangerous. Nobody wants any part of that.”
Van Genugten: From day to day
The start of the 2017 Dakar is special for Ton van Genugten this year as well. After finishing fifth last year as a fast assistance truck, the Dutchman is free to race for results this year. Just how far this opportunity can take him is still open to question, of course. “There are maybe ten, eleven teams who are good enough for the top three. So I can shoot my mouth off about aiming for the podium, but a couple of flat tyres could change everything. We’re taking things day by day. After the first few kilometres, I’ll know what I have to do, take it steady or go flat out. You don’t necessarily have to be lucky, but you really can’t afford any bad luck. So I’m not aiming for a position, but we’re in good shape. We’ve trained hard, we’ve prepared well, and yesterday’s shakedown went well. The whole team is in good shape. So I’m confident. It’s always great to be here, but the last few days before the start always seem to last forever. I can’t wait for January 2nd.”
Van Ginkel: Taking time
The job of providing fast assistance for Team De Rooy is in the hands of Wuf van Ginkel this year. He starts his twelfth Dakar in a De Rooy Iveco. And he can hardly wait. “It took time to get used to everything, but this team makes you feel at home very quickly. It’s an interesting challenge. I’ll have to push pretty hard to be able to stay with men like Gerard and Federico. Same with Ton.”
That won’t be easy, especially in the first few days. Starting with number 532 means there are some 25 trucks between Van Ginkel and the other De Rooy Ivecos. “That’s not ideal. It’s going to take me a couple of days to move up the field,” Van Ginkel realises. “The first day is just a short stage, you can only gain a couple of places. And the second and third days are on tracks where overtaking is difficult. But we’ll have to see how much racing we actually get to do. I was talking to Villagra about it: the soil here is so greasy that when it rains, it feels like you’re driving on ice. And the cars and trucks churn all that blubber up. I can’t believe they will send us out on that if it keeps raining in the next few days.”
The 2017 Dakar starts with the podium ceremony in Asunción. Team De Rooy don’t get their turn until late in the evening (European time). The first stage, 39 kilometres from Asunción to Resistencia in Argentina, is on January 2nd.
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