The win by Gerard de Rooy of the Netherlands and the Italian constructor Iveco made history, as it was 25 years afterGerard's father Jan, a legendary driver and Dakar winner, had won the famed rally. On board this year were Darek Rodewald (co-driver), and Belgian Tom Colsoul (mechanic), as this class allows three in the cab of the behemoth vehicles, which are popular in Europe and Russia, but are relatively unknown in America.
"I'm a bit moved, but I'll keep my sunglasses on. The entire race was terrific. I was 22 years old when I embarked on this, and now, a decade on, we did it exactly 25 years after my father won the Dakar," de Rooy said. This year's first-place finish was also especially gratifying for De Rooy because a back injury forced him to drop out in the opening stage of last year's race. Even though De Rooy was injured in an Iveco, he enjoyed the support of Kamaz.
"After dropping out last year, I had to wait a month before getting back into action. I went to the Kamaz factory in Russia to meet a specialist. The Russians offered me the services of their physical therapist. They wanted me to be in shape for the Dakar. They wanted a good race. In the end, the Kamaz drivers are rivals only in competition."
The second-place finishers in the Truck class were also from the Netherlands and motored in a Trakker Evolution II Iveco, with Hans Stacey (driver), Hans Van Goor (co-driver), and Bernard Der Kinderen (mechanic).
"Jan De Rooy [one of the team's sponsors] called me because he wanted one of his Ivecos to finish on the Dakar podium," said Stacey. "He thought of me because there are not many guys capable of doing it. I wanted to start at maximum attack speed, but after 50 kilometers in the first section, I went through a river and nothing happened, but my springs were broken, so I had to slow down. I pushed in the first section but in the last section I took care and prayed to God that my suspension would hold out until the finish. It was a very dangerous stage for trucks, but I'm happy to be here at the finish again."
Third in the Truck class was Team Astana from Kazakhstan: Artur Ardavichus (driver), Russian Alexey Kuzmich (co-driver), and Nurlan Turlubaev (mechanic), piloting a Kamaz. Team Astana is the first team not just from Kazakhstan but from throughout Central Asia to participate in Dakar.
"The T4s [big trucks] defy logic," said Darren Skilton, who is the U.S. representative for the Dakar. "Everybody who comes to the Rally cannot believe how fast and thunderously loud they are, with their big wheels and high ground clearance -- the ruts even don't bother them."
A native of Bellflower, California, Robby Gordon drove the No. 303 SPEED Energy/Toyo Tires Hummer to a fifth-place finish overall, after suffering a number of bad breaks, which included getting lost, a rollover, mechanical issues, and towing and helping his teammate, top-seeded Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah, the Qatari driver who won an epic duel in last year's rally against Carlos Sousa. (Al-Attiyah was forced to retire after Stage 8 due to mechanical problems.) Along the way, Gordon and co-driver Johnny Campbell posted 10 top-five stage finishes in the 14-stage event and won three stages. Although some racers would have been pleased with these results, Gordon was dissatisfied.
"Last year, the Dakar was an agonizing defeat for me. Dropping out on stage four was not only a bitter pill to swallow, but more importantly was an embarrassment. I've always thought that second place is just the first among the losers. So I'm afraid we're fourth among the losers!"
A passionate racer, the high-strung Gordon was hurt by being called a cheater regarding sophisticated air inflation system he developed. "I'm very clever -- a bit of a MacGyver -- and I exposed the ASO Dakar Rally organizers and officials to this system ahead of time," said Gordon, who felt he was chastised when he started to dominate the rally. Now, back in the U.S., Gordon has a full schedule of NASCAR races and off-road events.
Darren Skilton drove his Revolution "6" 2WD buggy from Baja Automotive to one of the race's more memorable finishes. During the first half of the Rally, his vehicle was plagued by fuel problems. Late in the race, numerous other problems occurred that Skilton described as "an emotional rollercoaster." At Stage 14, the esteemed American racer was aided by Australia's Geoffrey Olhom, as the duo had to tow the vehicle 9 kilometers, when it was then literally pushed over the finish line by Skilton's teammates.
Well-known on the off-road racing circuits of Dakar, in Baja, and around the globe, Skilton's never-surrender attitude has been widely celebrated. This was his seventh Dakar and he had hoped to finish in the top 15. "The car is fast and it's lighter than a Hummer," said Skilton, who was thrilled to start this year in the new buggy and to have his father, well-known racer Clive Skilton, on his crew. Undaunted by his trials, Skilton plans to be back with a small fleet of buggies, now that he's learned how to improve them for the rigors of Dakar.
A native of San Diego, the popular U.S.-based McMillin drove a Jeep Grand Cherokee with co-driver Gary Arnold. Unfortunately, the four-time winner of the Baja 1000 watched his Dakar dreams die when the McMillin Racing Dakar team's Jeep suffered a blown head gasket and warped head that forced him to the sidelines during Stage 2, which he could not finish.
This was especially disappointing, given that McMillin said before the start of his first Dakar: "I've been thinking about this race for a long time. Finishing is priority one. For sure, I'd like to win my class (Open Score), but I have no idea of what to expect...at the age of 55, I am coming to see what the Dakar is all about. I hope to do a good job so I can come back."
After the event, he said, "The best part was experiencing it first-hand, as there is no way you can begin to know it from TV or the stories of others. You really can't compare it to the Baja 1000 -- it's a different game. The worst part? The lack of sleep and the dust-bowl bivouacs. But I would absolutely go back under the right circumstances!"
Newbie Dakar competitor Ned Suesse, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, was the only U.S. biker to complete the rally, crossing the podium in 53rd place. An experienced biker, Suesse, who had dreamt of being on the start line of Dakar for years, has invented products for motorcycles, including a folding rearview mirror.
"I was fortunate. I had such a clean race and was never caught by the big trucks and most days by only a few cars. My training was a lot more technical than it needed to be, and therefore I was able to enjoy the Rally and the terrain -- all except the fesh-fesh [silt] and rocks of Chile. My mantra was 'no stops.' When you give up the initiative and stop, it's hard, but you don't get into trouble riding too slow. The only way for me to get through mentally was not to look at the big picture," said Suesse.
"Some years ago, I saw a group of motorcycles racing through the dunes in Mauritania on TV. The sight was so surreal and yet beautiful. I wanted more than anything to be there, doing that. I never thought it could happen. I committed myself to being on the start line in 2012, by doing lots of riding and wearing out tires like crazy practicing."