Issue 6 (47)/ June 2011
Best truck in the world – Russian KAMAZ?!
Yes, that's right. It is Kamaz, and to be more precise, a sports truck of this Russian brand, has become a gold winner of the DAKAR rally for the tenth time over the past 15 years! How did it happen that an enterprise which is decades behind the leading world manufacturers, in terms of its product, making trucks that were designed in the middle of the 70s of the last century, that are still rolling off the assembly line without major changes, has won the first place in the most difficult auto marathon, having by far outrun (in the literal and metaphorical sense) the leading West-European and American truck manufacturers?
We will have the answer to this question in this article. The history of the Soviet, and currently Russian, auto industry knows no other phenomenon like KAMAZ-MASTER, the manufacturer's rally team of the Russian truck maker KAMAZ (KAMSKY AUTO PLANT) from the city of Naberezhnye Chelny in Tatarstan.
Since 1988, when the KAMAZ-MASTER team participated, for the first time, in the world's most challenging auto competition – marathon rally PARIS-DAKAR (a route of over 10 000 km), the team has almost never missed a marathon despite financial difficulties and political changes, which took place in Russia over all those years. And since 2000, KAMAZ MASTER has been a leader in these competitions and only won first and the second places, and sometimes all three in the division of trucks weighing over 3,500 kg.
A little about the history and rules of the rally:
Marathon rally DAKAR (for many years it was known as "Paris Dakar Rally" is an annual transcontinental rally which has taken place since 1978. Before the rally was transferred to South America, the run finished or started in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal. Both professionals (manufacturers' teams) and amateurs (their number reaches 80%) from all over the world take part in this super marathon.
Unlike a classical rally where the World Rally Championship (WRC) consists of a multitude of stages in various countries, and the champion is determined by the sum of points, the Dakar competitions usually take place in the beginning of a year and finish upon arrival at the finish point. The entire distance is divided into several segments. The one who runs the route within the shortest time will win. In addition to rally cars, Dakar includes competitions among motorcycles, four-wheelers and trucks, and each class competition defines a rally raid winner.
The idea of the Paris-Dakar rally belongs to a French motorcyclist Thierry Sabine. In 1997 he lost his way in the Lybian Desert during the Abidjan-Nice rally. He was wandering in the desert, and was found only after three days. He stayed alive because local people, touaregs, found him at the right moment. This dangerous adventure inspired Thierry to organize the first marathon rally Paris-Dakar in 1978. Since then the Dakar rally has taken place every year in January. Thierry Sabine, as a founder of the Paris-Dakar rally, had the exclusive right to running this rally. This right was transferred to his father J. Sabine after Thierry's tragic death. The helicopter he was flying crashed on 14 January 1986 during Dakar-1986.
The first marathon rally Dakar was launched on 26 December 1978 on the Trocadero Square in Paris. 80 teams on cars, 90 motorcyclists, and 12 trucks participated in the marathon. Within 3 weeks the racers overcame 10000 km (including 3168 special distances – time runs) of the route on the territory of France, Algeria, Nigeria, Mali, Upper Volta and Senegal. Only 74 out of 182 participants successfully completed the race.
Because there were no category or class division at the first Dakar rally, autos and motorcycles ran in the joint competition. The first Dakar winner was Cyril Neveu on motorcycle Yamaha XT500. It is noteworthy that all three first prizes at the first rally went to motorcyclists – Gilles Compte on Yamaha and Philippe Vassard on Honda took the second and third places. Alain Genestier, Joseph Terbiaut and Jean Lemordane on Range Rover V8, became the best cars team.
In 1980 three competition groups were introduced: motorcycles, cars and trucks. The first official Dakar winner in the trucks class in the same year became an Algerian team on a Sonacome truck. In 2004 the right to run the Dakar rally was transferred to a French media magnate Philippe Amaury's company ASO (Amaury Sport Organization), which is until now the rally's organizer.
Traditionally, the rally started in Paris and finished in Dakar. But since 1995 due to constant objections on the part of the Paris Mayor's Office, the rally has been launched in various cities.
After the scandal around the cancellation of Dakar 2008 due to the threat of terrorist attacks, the organizing company ASO decided to move the competitions for an indefinite period of time to the territory of South America countries.
Each truck team includes three members: a pilot, a navigator and a mechanic. The following truck brands participate in super marathons: Tatra, LIAZ, ÊàìÀÇ, Hino, MAN, DAF, Mercedes-Benz, Unimog, Renault Kerax, SCANIA, IVECO, and GINAF. American manufacturers of heavy trucks have not run in these marathons, but European trucks with American engines CUMMINS è CATERPILLAR do take part. In the 1980s, a strong competition between DAF and Mercedes-Benz let to the appearance of transport with two engines with the capacity of over 1000 h.p. Since 2000, KamAZ and Tatra have been leading in the trucks class.
Considering that the Dakar rally roads are for the most part a relative notion, every participant is equipped with a navigation device GPS helping define the location.
In advance of every stage participants receive a legend – a route plan with major landmarks and checkpoints. To make the run more complicate, organizers prohibit the use of satellite navigation devices during some stages.
The Dakar rally route is laid along common use road (not always auto roads) without any special measures to limit transport traffic. Stages take place every day. Every stage's distance (road segments combined with express routes) is 700 to 900 km long. The rally timing coincides with the period when sand storms or rains are not unlikely, which makes the run more complicated.
The route of every stage is comprised of an express route and one or two road segments, which represent a distance between a recreation and a start point, or a finish and a recreation point or the next stage's start. The express segment is part of the route, where the teams compete. Every segment has one to three checkpoints – special points along the route where participants should receive a credit from judges. Some checkpoints also serve as gas fill-up stations. Some stages have secret checkpoints unknown to participants. Such checkpoints ensure that rally participants observe the route.
History of the trucks class
Since 1980, almost annually, the first prizes in the trucks class competitions first went to MERCEDES-BENZ teams, and afterwards an Italian manufacturer of heavy lift mining trucks PERLINI kept winning until 1992, almost annually, except for 1997 when a Dutch company DAF came first, and 1998 marked by the Czech truck manufacturer's TATRA victory.
The Russian team KAMAZ won the first place in 1996 for the first time, with Viktor Moskovsky as a racer, and it laid a foundation for a record amount of gold medals received by the team over the past 15 years. Since then, and until 2011, except for 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2007, the first prizes, and sometimes all three first prizes have gone to the Russian racers, which is a world record in its own right.
Vladimir Chagin, a seven-time champion among super marathon Dakar, is an absolute record breaker. As a KAMAZ pilot he won the first prizes in 2000,2002,2004,2006,2010 and 2011. He is followed by Firdaus Kabirov, who won gold in the 2005 and 2009 races.
It should be noted though that unlike the past years, KAMAZ is currently the only manufacturer's team in the trucks class, while all other teams are private, with some (minimal) support from the manufacturing plants. Conquering themselves, conquering the sands…
The Kamaz-Master team's history is a history of outstanding achievements in the Russian auto sports. No other Russian team has ever managed to become a three-time off-road rally World Cup winner, a multiple prize winner, a ten-time winner of the transcontinental super marathon Dakar known for its highest level of complexity. Its podium has long been fought for by truck teams carrying the world's most famous auto brands –Mercedes, MAN, Renault, Mitsubishu, Tatra, Iveco, DAF…
It is here, in the heat of the auto marathons, any auto corporation's dreams of its product superiority may burn, or on the contrary – the gold of the podium may, as a lighthouse, become a magnetic force for those who decided to become a financial or manufacturing partner of the company represented by the winner. The sport and the market are closely knit together.
Many European manufacturers' teams have left the competition over the past years due to high team maintenance costs, especially logistics costs – in the past three years the races took place in South America, which explains the high costs of teams' transportation and accommodation during the competitions. However, as I noted before, large manufacturer plants continue to technically and financially support private teams who ride their trucks. How is it possible that quite an average and not the most perfect by far, series-produced truck KAMAZ finds itself ahead of the entire planet in the most difficult world competition, having outrun all the famous and largest manufacturers?
There are several explanations to this phenomenon:
Firstly, incredible physical training and stamina demonstrated by the team under the most difficult conditions of the marathon over thousands of kilometers, and their immense aspiration for victory.
The marathon is not only a test for the equipment, but also considerable physical activity for the team. Secondly, incredible mechanical preparation of the tuck for the competitions and well organized world-class logistics, as well as boundless enthusiasm and efficiency of all KAMAZ-MASTER team members.
It should be noted that KAMAZ is a prestigious plant, Russia's largest heavy-duty vehicle manufacturer, which long ago has left behind the legendary ZIL and GAZ.
This is of course is an enormous advertising opportunity for trucks made at an enterprise which does not export its goods to the developed European and world's countries, and confines itself to the post-Soviet and third world countries.
Thirdly, thanks to these super marathons, it is possible to test new engineering designs for truck components in the most stressful road (or rather off-road) conditions. In fact, many technical solutions suggested by KAMAZ-MASTER's sports workshop (employing about 100 people) are often transferred to series-produced trucks.
Moreover, Soviet and then Russian all-terrain vehicles have won the reputation as most successful and undemanding under the most difficult road conditions. It is no coincidence that GAZ-66, ZIL-131, ZIL-157, and URAL-375 trucks are often successful in various world championships, and are employed even by European participants in the OFF ROAD TRUCK-TRAIL races.
So KAMAZ is faithful to the tradition, and quite successful, as we can see. A highly important component is an almost limitless team financing by the enterprise, as well as Russia's largest banks (VTB), oil companies (TRANSNEFT), and since recently, world's largest auto sports sponsor: Austrian energy drink maker RED BULL.
What's next? Two years ago KAMAZ tested American engines Cummins once again, but there is still no alternative to the engine made in Yaroslavl'. The team's engineers are also working on lowering the truck's weight (it is currently 9200, although DAKAR rules only allow 8500 kg) and improving weight distribution (on Chagin's prototype they managed to achieve the fifty-fifty proportion).
However, refinement of current trucks is an attempt to turn the best vehicle into an ideal one: the sports KAMAZ will remain an uncompromising vehicle, allowing to mass produce victories one after another. Finally, I would like to share some major technical features of a modern tractor truck KAMAZ 65116 with a 6x4 wheel arrangement (three axles, including two rear driving axles):
Total truck train weight is 37,850 kg (83,370 Lbs)
EURO-3 engine (in line with the American eco standard 2000). It is basically a 1975 model with minor modifications.
V-8, 11,76 l. turbocharged-and-aftercooled engine
Capacity – 280 h.p. (1900 rpm)
Torque capacity – 1177 Nwm (1300 rpm)
Fuel injection – mechanical, fuel pump by Bosch
Guaranteed engine mileage before overhaul – 300,000 km (as an option, Cummins engine with up to 300 h.p. engine, manufactured by the company's joint venture in Russia)
Manual 9-speed transmission (as an option, 9-16 speed ZF transmission)
Cabin above the engine, one or two berths (optional), manufactured since 1976 without major modifications
Standard tubed tyres, 9.00x20 or 10.00x20 (option – tubeless tyres, 305/80R22,5 or 11R22,5)
I am providing this data for comparison with those trucks which most our fellow countrymen truckers are working on in Canada. However, over the past 2-3 years KAMAZ has created joint ventures with world's leading auto parts for heavy-duty trucks, for example, CUMMINS (engines), ZF (transmissions), FEDERA MOGUL (piston group), KNORR BREMSE (brake and air systems). Of course, it has impact on the quality of Russian trucks and their reliability.
In my opinion, engagement of these manufacturers is definitely KAMAZ sports team's (KAMAZ-MASTER) merit. It allowed KAMAZ to understand the advantages of world's leading manufacturers' auto components and launch their installation onto series-produces Russian vehicles.
Besides, KAMAZ today is a strategic and official partner with DAIMLER-BENZ, German manufacturer of MERCEDES trucks, as well as a Japanese manufacturer MITSUBISHI-FUSO, and in the near future it should reflect on the appearance, technical features and quality of the KAMAZ-produced cars.
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