80 MAN trucks in action at the Dakar Rally 2009

The favourites for the Dakar victory will race MAN rally trucks. The offroad adventure runs from 3rd to 18th January, 2009. Several works teams rely on MAN service trucks.

The 30th Dakar Rally follows a course that, for the first time, does not run through the African desert but through mountainous South America. Travelling to the toughest rally in the world starts with a five-week voyage by sea to Argentina. Right now, the MAN trucks are on a ferry to Buenos Aires. The competitors start from there on 3rd January. MAN is supplying by far the largest number of competition trucks and all-wheel service trucks at the Dakar 2009. 30 MAN trucks are in the running for the title, either as race trucks or fast support trucks. Another 50 all-wheel trucks are being used by the teams to transport their equipment from stage to stage.

Franz Echter and Hans Stacey are piloting competition trucks

The Dakar 2009 follows a 9,500-kilometre long route through southern Argentina, across the Andes to Chile, where it takes a path through the north back to Buenos Aires. A staggering 5,650 kilometres of special stages have to be driven at racing speed. Two MAN race trucks with works support are competing in the Dakar 2009 in South America. These two race trucks are based on the MAN TGS 18.480 4x4 and were designed and developed by the Dutch MAN rally team "MAN WITH A MISSION 2".

Franz Echter, technician in the MAN test department, is no longer driving as a fast serviceman: he is racing one of the two MAN rally team's competition trucks, just like in 2006. His truck has start number 507.

One of the hot favourites for the overall title in the truck category is Hans Stacey. He is driving the second of the MAN rally team's competition trucks, with start number 500. Stacey has a huge amount of experience under all kinds of rally conditions. If you want to win a desert rally like the Dakar 2007 in its original form, you need a high degree of sand expertise. In the Central Europe Rally 2008 in Hungary and Romania on the other hand, there was a tight battle for seconds on the comparatively short stages, while the 16-day Transoriental Rally from St. Petersburg to Peking tested above all the abilities of the teams to perform the marathon. The versatile Dutchman won all three, and thus brings a huge fund of experience to the new terrain.

With a near-series MAN TGS 18.480 4x4, the Dutchman Geert Verhoeven with navigator Peter Willemsen and mechanic Johann van Gestel is behind Stacey and Echter in the rally standings. Their fast support truck has an emergency repair kit on board and bears the start number 526.

The race teams and their trucks

The two MAN competition vehicles are vying for the honours in the T4 prototype class. Hans Stacey relies on Charly Gotlib (navigation) and Bernard der Kinderen (engineering). Pilot Franz Echter's team is made up of Detlef Ruf, the navigator, and Artur Klein, the technician.

The two MAN trucks in the race are powered by modified six-cylinder 12.4-litre D26 Common Rail engines, the same as were used in the FIA European Truck Racing Championship. But while the requirements of the latter in terms of power and torque meant that the settings were always close to the limit, the Dakar Rally demands reliability over a long distance. The engines were thus designed to produce plenty of power and tremendous torque across a wide range of engine-speeds.

The FIA, governing body for world motor sport, emphasizes low exhaust emissions in rally sport: the regulations do not allow any black smoke. Using the most up-to-date common-rail injection technology, MAN engines provide a very suitable basis for clean emissions motorsport.

New start for the classic rally

After the Dakar Rally 2008 had to be cancelled because of terror threats, the organisers developed a whole new concept: their choice for the world's most famous rally fell on South America, a region that offers completely new geographical perspectives. The winding mountain roads of South America have seen many big rallies in the past, and the large fan base there ensures that the new Dakar will be welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd on many of its stages. With their varied landscapes, Argentina and Chile have the optimum prerequisites for a route that is both full of change and full of challenge. The competitors are even going to have to deal with a lot of sand: in northern Chile the Atacama desert is waiting for the rally caravan with terrain that enables demanding special stages. Then too, extreme heat and cold will put the participants' fitness and their vehicles' robustness to a rigorous test.

Altitudes of up to 4,700 metres: the air is thin at the top

Some of the mountain passes that have to be conquered on the Dakar are higher above sea level than the summit of the Matterhorn. For many of the competitors they are the biggest challenge. Hardly anyone has intensive rally experience in Alpine regions. The connection stage from Chile back to Argentina runs over the Paso San Francisco, which means that the teams will have to cope with an altitude of 4,700 metres above sea level. The thin air is physically demanding on drivers, navigators and service crews. Because the air pressure is lower, one gets around forty percent less oxygen with every breath of air than at sea level. Under these conditions, the human body is less able to perform and many of the competitors are going to battle with a mild form of altitude sickness. For the majority it will be a new experience, and some of the daily stages are well over 700 kilometres long.

While the greatest altitudes are reached on the liaison stage, the specials also go up to heights of around 3,000 metres. Getting the maximum performance out of the engines at heights like these is a tough problem for the race engineers to crack. This is because engines react to the difference in pressure and the lack of oxygen that goes with it just as sensitively as the human body does. The atmospheric conditions were simulated on the test beds at the MAN engine plant in Nuremberg, where the diesel engines were readied for going into action at high altitude.

MAN's engine specialist, Artur Klein, will experience first hand whether the rally conditions produce some surprises for the engine data. He is a member of MAN test boss Franz Echter's team, and developed a special operating map for the racing engines to correct for altitude. Says Klein: "Various adjustments are necessary in order to operate the engines at high altitudes. During the stages of the rally, the engines are automatically adjusted by the electronic controls to the changing operating conditions. A barometric sensor plays the key role here." The sensor measures the air pressure and thus indirectly the oxygen level of the intake air. Using these values, the electronic diesel engine control unit (EDC) regulates the charge pressure, full load, injection quantity and timing of the diesel engine. The air temperature is also part of the calculation. Artur Klein is convinced that he has found the optimal solution, even though he knows that the tough off-road conditions can always produce uncertainties, "but that is precisely what makes an event like the Dakar Rally exciting: you have to have a talent for improvisation because you simply can't calculate every eventuality."

MAN's the brand in marathon motor sport

The strength of MAN also makes itself apparent in the large number of teams using MAN trucks as assistance vehicles. Highly-reliable all-wheel drive vehicles are in great demand as carriers for the specialised mobile workshops that accompany the motorbikes, rally cars and competition trucks. Spare parts, tools, generators, compressors, light towers, tarpaulins, tents and personal equipment have to be delivered safely to the goal of each stage. Practically all the well-known works and semi-works teams are using MAN trucks for their service fleets: these include the two most ambitious Dakar teams of recent years, the VW and Mitsubishi works teams, as well as the German BMW X-Raid-Team, Toyota, the Hummer crew led by the American Robbie Gordon, and KTM in the motorbike class. In addition to the above, many of the private teams are racing MAN vehicles.

Dakar coordinator Peter Ocker is looking after the more than 80 MAN vehicles that will roll to the starting line for the Dakar 2009. To support the 30 rally trucks being raced by MAN customers and their 50 assistance trucks, MAN Commercial Vehicles is providing two three-axle all-wheel drive TGS 26.480 6x6 vehicles, each of them loaded with ten tonnes of special tools and spare parts. The works service trucks are crewed by two experienced teams. The first is manned by Hans Echter, Hans-Werner Nell and Josef Kreppold – all three work in the testing department of MAN's Munich plant. The second three-axle service truck has Peter Ocker, Robert Waldmann and René Deutsch on board.

Teams to leave after Christmas

For the teams, it all really starts on 27th December: first the flight to Buenos Aires, then the collection of the vehicles from the ferry. After that the technical preparations and the briefings, so that they are as ready as they can be when 3rd January sees the start of the Dakar Rally 2009.