Many of us know the Dakar Rally as one of the world’s toughest off-road races. A journey of 10 000 km where both man and machine are tested for 14 days straight. For South Africa’s only privateer entrant, Hennie de Klerk, the journey began more than 5 years ago.
The idea starts as an itch. You have two options: ignore it and it’ll probably go away, or start scratching and bring it to the surface. Hennie de Klerk chose to scratch.
But this wasn’t your everyday itch, the idea started as a by-the-way question to LA Sport owner Lionel Lewis: “So, Lionel, how do I compete in the Dakar Rally?”
Lionel’s advice was simple: “Buy a rally vehicle and start climbing the local rally scene”.
Hennie was already involved in track racing, but he had a dream to one day embark on the world’s most epic off-road rally, the Dakar Rally.
14 days and 10 000 km of non-stop concentration and endurance racing over some of the world’s harshest terrain. A race where 100 vehicles start, and only 50 get to see the finish line. But tough conditions and extreme vehicle reliability are only a small part of the problem, the real challenge is getting to the race in the first place.
Hennie took Lionel’s advice and began his 5-year off-road quest; two years were spent rallying a Toyota Hilux, and then came the BMW X3. Finally, Hennie now has a 5.0-litre V8 Amarok, built by the folks at WCT Engineering. It is in this vehicle that he plans on tackling the 2018 Dakar Rally.
But again, this is only part of the journey, the real difficulty is raising funds.
As a privateer racer, he’ll get no support from any vehicle manufacturers; that means the entire cost of getting to the Dakar Rally, gathering spares and covering the R450 000 entry fee is privately funded. Fortunately, Hennie’s own company, Treasury One, is able to assist as the primary sponsor.
One of the most crucial aspects of the race is the cost and durability of the tyres. As a Class-T competitor, Hennie’s Amarok must compete with standard production tyres.
In the local rally scene, Hennie’s preferred tyre is the Cooper Discoverer S/T MAXX, a tyre well known for its extreme sidewall strength, tread durability, and puncture resistance (essential qualities required for Africa’s tough off-road conditions). It was with this tyre that Hennie gained entry to the 2018 Dakar Rally by winning the Dakar Challenge at the 2017 Toyota Desert 1000 race in Botswana.
The Dakar Challenge is a sub-category race within the Toyota Desert 1000, where the winner of the cup walks away with a free entry ticket to the official Dakar Rally in South America. The prize is sponsored by Toyota SA and includes the cost to enter the Dakar Rally, along with the transport and logistics of getting your vehicle there. The race victory was a giant leap forward for Hennie and his quest to compete in the 2018 Dakar Rally.
Photo credit: Treasury One Motorsport
But the conditions in South America are very different to what we have here in SA; for starters, the bulk of next year’s Dakar Rally will be driven over a sea of sand and dunes.
Hennie’s not particularly worried about the gravel-road stages, in many ways our conditions in Africa are tougher from a tyre point of view, where the local cross-country rally scene must contend with rocks, thorns, and hardwood tree stumps.
Hennie’s biggest concern is how well he can read the dunes. If you tackle them too fast, you run the risk of rolling the vehicle head first on the other side. However, if you don’t charge the dune fast enough, you could get hung up on the crest – leading to a lengthy recovery process.
Photo credit: Treasury One Motorsport
For this reason, Hennie has adjusted his tyre choice to a more aggressive tread pattern, opting for the Cooper Discoverer STT PROs. Hennie believes the STT PROs will offer additional traction on the Dakar’s loose sand stages, and according to his tests in Namibia, they’re performing exceptionally well on dune-like terrain.
All in all, Hennie will take 32 sponsored Cooper tyres to the race; thankfully, the local (SA) agents have been long-term supporters of Hennie and his Dakar vision. At least tyre reliability and support will be one less thing to worry about – a noteworthy point when you’re competing in a 14 day race that doesn’t allow for errors, or, tyre troubles.
Follow Hennie’s Dakar progress by liking the Coopertires Africa Facebook page.