Ayrat Mardeyev: ‘Did we lose Dakar? We will recover it in a year’

KAMAZ-master: the price of revenge from A to Z

Ayrat Mardeyev: ‘Did we lose Dakar? We will recover it in a year’
Photo: Roman Khasaev

Most mass media talk to champions in their editorial or sports venues. The sports staff of Realnoe Vremya combines business and pleasure and prefers cosy places of the capital of Tatarstan. Yesterday we enjoyed a cup of coffee in company of one of the best pilots of the most renowned team in the Russian auto sport KAMAZ-master Ayrat Mardeyev. The winner of Dakar 2015 and Silk Way Rally 2012 'opened the door of the backstage' of the team, explained the specifics of the auto sport of off-road vehicles and his story from karting driver to KAMAZ pilot. The main reason for the talk was Ayrat's second place in Dakar 2016. Tatarstan got used to victories in these competitions. Not all people accept the result as good one. What is the opinion of the pilot? Realnoe Vremya offers to read the interview.

Let's start from the most important thing. You represented KAMAZ-master in Dakar 2016 and became the runner-up. Many specialists and fans, including the editorial of Realnoe Vremya, think that it was a bad luck. You just taught us to see victories of KAMAZ in off-road endurance races. What is your opinion on the result?

We don't think it's a bad result. Yes, we have had three consecutive victories. But it is impossible to take the lead always. All victories were difficult. Every year we snatched victory from jaws of defeat. This time, Iveco was lucky, Gerard de Rooy always was a strong pilot. We find it difficult to compete with him.

Like in 2015, when you won a victory?

Yes, he was good in that race. At that moment, only one day of the competition worsened everything: he fell into a pit and lost much time remedying the situation. Under that circumstances, it was difficult to compete with us. This year, de Rooy succeded, while we had problems during the race: both technical problems and just lack of luck. This is why we could not obtain Dakar gold. I hope you understand that our rivals are preparing too. Every year the competition heats up. All opponents are tired of seeing us as perennial leader. This year they managed to make a good truck and win. No matter, next time we will get angry and recover it (smiling).

Off-riding is our cup of tea

The very road or, more precisely, the landscape affected too. MAN dominated in the first half of the race. It was difficult to fight with him in a narrow rough ground that seemed to be a classic rally. They demonstrated a great result. The pilots of the team come from classical rally and prepared their vehicle according to it. KAMAZ is designed for impassable surfaces: sand, dunes, gullies and stones are our cup of tea. In tortuous tracks we, undoubtedly, gave way. We have things to remedy. We will make a universal vehicle.

KAMAZ is designed for impassable surfaces: sand, dunes, gullies and stones are our cup of tea

Was the character of the track changed to make the race more spectacular?

I don't think so. I suppose it is more spectacular to see how an off-road vehicle passes an impassable track, jumps over natural hills, etc. The case is that it is difficult to find large off-road terrains, for this reason, there were fewer tracks of this kind than before. We had problems with engines in hairpin bends in the mountains.

KAMAZ is not afraid of mud. What about the speed sections?

This race is behind. Will KAMAZ have any novelties in 2017 concerning the technical equipment?

It depends on the track of the future race. Now we are waiting for April, it is when we will know the location of the next Dakar. Then we will understand the character of the place. Look, if it will be something like Argentina and Bolivia (like this year), we will optimize our cars for narrow tortuous roads in the mountains. We will prepare the engine and the mounting for it. Brakes are an important factor. They shouldn't overheat when altitude changes. For instance, Lopraise left the race because his brakes burnt.

Your plans for the technical equipment are clear. Will you change anything in pilot technique?

We will work on rally tracks. It is necessary to trim the margin in tortuous sections; we should pass them as if it was an off-road track, where we are the best. I had said: the worse the track, the better for us.

Are tanks, or rather KAMAZ vehicles not afraid of mud?

They aren't (smiling). All competitions in Russia mainly take place in off-road conditions. We lack experience in regular driving in fast tortuous tracks with blind bends. We are optimizing the vehicle to these conditions. We will look for such roads and drive in classic rally routes on the territory of Russia.

The financial crisis is making adjustments but won't influence the result

You have serious plans. Do they correlate with the severe financial crisis on the market of heavy road vehicles? Will the sponsors have enough money for all needs?

It has an impact on the team's life, of course. About 80% of our spending are in dollars. I'm speaking about the organization of the trip to Dakar and purchases of technical equipment. Taking into account today's currency rate, it turns into continuous problems because our budget obviously is in rubles. No one raised it according to the currency rates. We do our best and economize. For example, we did not go to Morocco for test races due to this problem. This trip was substituted by Kazakhstan.

About 80% of our spending are in dollars, including the organization of the trip to Dakar and purchases of technical equipment.

Does KAMAZ or other sponsors expend additional funds because of this situation?

No, the factory itself is in a difficult situation now. We cannot complain. KAMAZ and other partners did not avert their faces from the team. Moreover, Red Bull increased their financial help by 40%. In addition, despite all difficulties in the banking sector, VTB bank found an opportunity to raise its allocation. So, I hope that this year the situation will be easier compared to last year. In other words, they do everything possible in order to avoid the impact of the financial situation on our results.

I was KAMAZ's fan from childhood

Why did you choose off-road races, not more popular cars?

First of all, my father had been working in the team for long. This is why I was KAMAZ's fan from childhood, I saw these large vehicles and dreamt of being at the wheel on the race track. A big team is needed to continue a serious career. In Russia, there was only one of this kind – KAMAZ. I did not revise other variants.

But it was not a bed of roses. Initially, broom was my first tool, not spanner or steering wheel. 'Bring, give and don't bother', to coin a phrase. Every one experiences it. Later you become a mechanic of the crew, only then there will be tests to be a pilot.

How was your first attempt? Did you go weak at the knees?

Initially, I acted as a mechanic of the crew in the Russian race of the Championship of Russia Volgograd – Astrakhan. I did not worry, I coped with the working load. I did not have any problem with the vestibular system – it is a very important thing in this sport. The next race I was at the wheel. At that moment, young members of a team were tested in championships of the country. They did not require anything. There was a task to reach the finishing line and not to break anything because eight participants out of twelve represented KAMAZ. The aim was to demonstrate that you were able to drive in race mode.

Do you have any problems? What is the gimmick of off-road vehicles compared to classic cars?

It is difficult to express the feelings and emotions. It is necessary to understand that the vehicle's weight is about 9 tonnes. In addition, it gathers speed like a car – 100km/h in 9 seconds. The truck's inertia of movement is bigger. Consequently, it explains the tilt and surge of adrenalin. If you offer a racing car driver to try… Once I invited my old friend: at the beginning, he did not understand anything due to the shaking. The he tried again and said that he tried to follow the path, etc. Finally, he said that he understood nothing (smiling). A usual person doesn't remember anything because of the shaking.

Recipe for revenge

We wish you strong health then. Back to the beginning… Do you have any algorithm to recover the gold in Dakar 2017?

To start with, we need to finish Silk Way Rally successfully. It will be a good training and trial of strength. We also should cultivate our own abilities and understand that in Dakar 2016 did not happen anything terrible. On the contrary, it makes us angrier and motivate us. We will work on piloting looking for interesting solutions to succeed in the race. We also need to invent something that nobody has used like in any activity. It is the recipe for the victory. When vehicles go in a line, the results are similar. A beeline is necessary here; it is a detail that allows to succeed.

I suppose it refers to the technical part too…

Exactly! Any new engineering solution increases the chances of success. The thing is that the first ten trucks of the world reached the maximum in main characteristics: power, brake, transmission. Only details help win. For instance, the choice of tyres. The vogue for brands changes from one race to another one. And the pioneers have an additional advantage in time because it takes time to follow the 'inventor'. The choice of tyres depends on the track.

All in all the sum of factors of piloting and technical competitions and the Lady Fortune, of course, brings a victory or defeat. Now there is an intense competition. If in the 90s the margin was one hour, today the difference among the first ten vehicles can be 5 minutes. In the 70s, Dakar was a mass adventure and trial. Now it is a sport, where instants and details are the power.

We hope that you will have this totality and KAMAZ will the recover the lead in Dakar 2017. Good luck!

Thank you for the talk and company with a cup of coffee!

By Artur Khalillulov. Photo: Roman Khasaev and dakar.com

Ayrat Mardeyev – KAMAZ-master pilot

Honoured Master of Sports of Russia joined the team in 2006.

Date and place of birth – 1 January 1987, Naberezhnye Chelny.

Hobby: karting.

Marital status: married.