In conversation with Andrey Karginov

Russian rally raid driver Andrey Karginov took top honours in the 2020 Dakar Rally in the truck category for Kamaz. GIANENRICO GRIFFINI meets the man behind the chequered flag

Two Kamaz crews finished on the podium in Qiddiya and another Kamaz truck was placed in fourth position in the final ranking. Did you expect this result before the rally began – especially given the uncertainties of the first Dakar in the Arabian Peninsula?

Every time we go to a competition, especially the Dakar (the most challenging race of the year), we go with certain objectives. So, too, do the rest of the competitors. Everyone goes with their ambitions and wants to show the best possible result.

As for our team, our task was to win the race. We took first, second and fourth places, which was an excellent result. The race was difficult. Both the pace set by our rivals, and sometimes our own fast pace, raised concerns as to whether the vehicles and crews would cope, but we proved once again that we are a strong team and can win.

How do you compare the Dakar in South America with the Dakar in Saudi Arabia? Was this year’s rally more or less difficult than last year’s race? If so why?

There were common features, and of course differences. First, it was summer during the Dakar in South America, and winter in Saudi Arabia. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia was slightly better because there was no exhausting heat, but the temperature was cold at night; it reached almost zero degrees. The mechanics had to wear very warm clothes in order not to freeze while doing their jobs.

The second difference was that during the event in Saudi Arabia there were no high altitudes. This made it easier for the participants, the vehicles and the engines.

Running a hugely successful team at the Dakar is no mean feat, but Vladimir Chagin has been doing just that for years.

Furthermore, the travelling time was shorter, and it was easier to adapt to the racing conditions. Having said this, the tracks on the Dakar 2020 were very diverse. There were high-speed sections, where we could drive at maximum speed, sandy tracks and dunes of various complexities. There were rocky sections and roads with huge boulders, as well as “killer” winding riverbeds. We were presented with all the types of terrain that we love in rally raids.

Can you explain the main reasons for your performance this year? Was it, as in the past, mainly due to the tests you carried out before the rally, the ability of your Kamaz 43509 rally truck, the teamwork, the tactics and the strategies of your team manager Vladimir Chagin, or perhaps the reliable Dongfeng Cummins 13-litre engine?

There wasn’t only one reason. The team had masses of experience and we reviewed the team tactics every day. We also trained extensively during the year. The competitions in which we participated during the year also contributed to our result at the Dakar. Both the truck and the engines were reliable. When all these factors were combined, we produced a good result.

Extremely low temperatures meant that the technicians had to dress very warmly at night.

Did you use an automatic gearbox this year? If so, why, and did you like it?

Yes, from this year, all four sports crews drove with an automatic gearbox. Last year, only two drivers went with an automatic gearbox. The other two, including me, used a manual transmission.

I drove with the automatic gearbox for the first time on the Silk Way Rally. Its main advantage is in the dunes, in heavy sand, where it is necessary to change gears constantly. With a manual gearbox, this is more difficult and you probably lose more time. For example, if you skid, then there are definite advantages to the automatic gearbox.

Can you tell us, in some detail, the story of your Dakar this year? What were the main turning points of this year’s rally?

The organisers of the Dakar aim to make it an unforgettable adventure. Every year they try to surprise contestants. This year they certainly succeeded. There was a huge variety of tracks, which were also very complex. There were lots of sharp stones on the route, and I was constantly mindful of the need to avoid punctures.

The final 100 km was populated by huge boulders that I had to avoid while still going fast. It was extremely risky – because the truck could have been severely damaged. At the finish line, many of the frontrunners in the car category said that it was the most difficult 100 km in the history of the Dakar.

A special message to the International Truck of the Year jury members from Karginov.

Who was the most challenging competitor this year? Viazovich?

I respect all the competitors. Everyone was working towards a good result and a victory. Although, having said that, the MAZ (with Siarhei Viazovich), Tatra, Hino and Renault teams were all strong – as were Iveco’s Gerard De Rooy and Federico Villagra. From time to time, they all achieved good results. It could be said that our performance was more consistent and, in the aggregate of all the days, we showed the best time.

How would you describe your driving style? Are you aggressive, cool or perhaps a tactician?

I use all three styles. Sometimes I need to go fast, and this involves aggressive driving, but I’m mindful of exposing myself and my truck to as little risk as possible. This is not always achievable. I also bear in mind the team tactics. All this combines to achieve a good result.

The first, second and third placed teams on the podium at the end of the arduous event.

Where do you feel at your best as a pilot – on rocky stretches, soft desert sand, dunes, or on the narrow and winding routes?

Our team says: “The worse the track, the better it is.” The tracks to which they are referring are the “killer” winding stony riverbeds – and those are the conditions that I like best.

It’s not very enjoyable to race over a mountainous special stage where you cannot cut corners because you need to drive in a fixed track. On mountain stages, there’s usually a hill on the one side and a drop-off on the other, so if you cut the corners, you die.

You obviously need to be especially cool-headed in those conditions. I love dunes. You do not have to drive fast in the dunes; you need to overcome them without getting stuck.

Can you outline the major steps in your career as a pilot of rally trucks? Where and when did you start driving a rally truck? I suppose in Chelny?

Yes, my career began in Naberezhnye Chelny with karting. Although karts are essentially small cars, they have much in common with a truck – a sense of steering, reaction and a desire to win, for instance.

Karting teaches a motor sportsman a great deal. And sitting behind the wheel of a truck, you just make corrections and expand these skills. All my skills and achievements as a pilot are thanks to the team. The team has taught me everything.

Would you like to drive a bonneted truck, instead of a cab-over truck?

I drove a bonneted truck during one training session and I experienced its advantages, but, in order to learn how to manage it, you cannot simply drive one in a race or two; you need to drive it over a period of a year.

I am sure that our bonneted truck will become a worthy rival in the future. For now, however, we have developed our cab-over version to the point that it is extremely competitive and it performs well. It is currently the main focus for the team.

Finally, can you tell us anything about your future projects?

Our main project is our racing truck, its modernisation and its ongoing improvement. As a driver, I am primarily interested in improving its sporting qualities. I want to make it faster. Certainly, it needs testing.

We can do this at the Silk Way Rally. This event allows us to test both the truck and our driving skills. It takes place in three different countries and it offers a variety of tracks: dunes, sand, hard tracks and slippery off-road sections. Competition is stiff. If you succeed at the Silk Way Rally, you can go to Dakar with confidence.

My friends call me a glomad (a global nomad lest you don’t get it). That’s a particularly apt word, because I am always trawling all corners of the globe, looking for stories. As a result, I have slept in some seriously strange places – on a bed of ice in the Arctic circle, on the floor in a traditional Japanese hotel, on the sand dunes in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan … and even on the floor of a Thai cargo ship. Mostly however I tend to sleep on aircraft (if I had a dog, he would bark at me when I eventually come home). I am passionate about trucks, cars, travel, food, wine, people and hugs – so I write about all these things. Except the hugs.

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