‘It was important to hear the Russian anthem, win with the Russian flag and in the Tatarstan lorry’

KAMAZ-Master crew about difficulties of the latest Dakar, the importance of raising the flat and shooting of a new series

A month after the next, already 18th Dakar the team won in Saudi Arabia, KAMAZ-Master’s crew arrived in Kazan to talk about all difficulties they had to face on the racing circuit of the Arabian Peninsula. Dmitry Sotnikov, Anton Shibalov and Ayrat Mardeyev as well as captain of the team Vladimir Chagin who occupied the whole podium said how important it was to hear Russia’s anthem and raise the tricolour precisely during the uneasy times for Russian sport. Also, they shared stories from the production set of a new series named Master and details of an episode when they collided with a helicopter. Read these and other details from a briefing with the winners from Chelny in Realnoe Vremya’s report.

Saudi Arabia’s racing circuit is the toughest in KAMAZ-Master’s history of competition in Dakar

All drivers of the Tatarstan team claimed almost immediately and unanimously they hadn’t seen such a tough track as the one in Saudi Arabia and stiff competition. And the crew’s captain Vladimir Chagin and the team noted the artful natural landscape that didn’t let a lot of athletes finish.

“This track is unique, first of all, due to high, impassable loose dunes,” Vladimir Chagin took the floor. “The whole track is very rocky, we hadn’t seen such sharp stones we saw in the Arabian Peninsula. So tyres got punctured more often than in South America or Africa. I call driving fast without getting tyres punctured exquisite craftsmanship. The finish was on 15 January in Jeddah, and we were indescribably happy to give the Russian anthem a reason to play during the award ceremony. It was very important for us during this tough time when politics and sport are interwoven. It was important for us to win with the Russian flag in the lorry made in Tatarstan.”

Winner of the rally Dmitry Sotnikov said how many opponents didn’t reach the finishing line in general. The numbers are impressive — nearly a third of the competitors raised a white flag in the middle of the circuit. Only 193 out of 286 cars crossed the line. 29 of 44 lorries finished, Sotnikov concluded.

“The transfer of Dakar from South America made a lot of changes. The manager changed too besides the continent. He modernises races and introduces new ‘navigation’, which is special digital devices that one couldn’t see in advance, so everything is learnt in process.”

Driver Anton Shibalov who finished second overall paid attention not to the natural difficulties but increased competition. According to him, it becomes harder and harder to fight for the podium year after year.

“A tough fight is the main peculiarity of Dakar,” Shabalov said. “A lot of mass media compared [Dakar] with Formula One. The margin was so small. All the competitors were so prepared, strong, from a perspective of both machinery and crews. The shortest track was 230 km, the longest one is 530 km. And competitors finished one after another even in such sections.”

About political role of KAMAZ-Master’s win

During the month after the victory at Dakar-2021, Vladimir Chagin stressed in all his interviews that the current victory was especially important. The main task of the Russian team was to hear Russia’s anthem and raise the Russian flag when they are officially banned in the biggest sports competitions.

However, the team doesn’t forget its main task KAMAZ-Master was deliberately created for — to promote the Tatarstan lorry manufacturer in the market:

“As a factory team, we were created over 30 years ago to promote the brand of KAMAZ to advertise it around the world, promote our republic, the Russian automotive industry. And being on different continents, we feel the greater interest in the team, Russia, Tatarstan year after year. Many already know that Kazan is the sports capital of Russia, and we are proud that we made our contribution. We are proud that people talk a lot about Tatarstan, Kazan, KAMAZ,” Chagin added.

KAMAZ-Master recently started to sell merch on eBay. 55 souvenirs for 200,000 rubles were sold during the first month of sales. After the victory foreigners’ interest in the team’s products significantly rose, Chagin noted answering Realnoe Vremya’s question.

“After the successful performance, we see merchandise sales have increased, and this makes us happy. We understand that people will wear KAMAZ’s logo in other countries, in the USA, Germany, Australia. And eBay helped us with it,” Chagin said.

“Is the competition KAMAZ lorry really a KAMAZ product?” journalists wondered.

“As it is known, we share the same territory with the plant, and there is a corridor between us. We are closely linked with KAMAZ engineers. We share novelties in the world of mechanical engineering with them because it is necessary to stay up to date. We know how high the competition is in the market now. As for parts and components of our vehicle, we look at those manufacturers who work with our plant. It is the engine, transmission and other spare parts. Our main principle is to have a close connection between commercial cars and racing cars. The capacities are different, of course. Everybody prepares special machinery to participate in Dakar, and this is the demonstration of our plant’s engineers’ capabilities. We work as a team — both in the sports market and the automotive market,” head of KAMAZ-Master Vladimir Chagin said.

On episode with collision: “We asked the helicopter to keep a social distance”

A moment when the Russian lorry hit a helicopter that was too close to it in mid-air probably became the most famous episode of Dakar-2021. The video immediately went viral, while bloggers even made installations from LEGO.

“Citizens and guests of Kazan repeatedly saw our drivers performing in KAMAZ lorries and drifting near the Kremlin and observed the car fly three metres high. It is the specifics of our lorry — to be a “flying lorry” as KAMAZ is called,” Chagin said. “Dakar is not only on earth but also in the air. And of course, organisers try to take as beautiful photos as possible to capture the universal joint, the engine, everything in detail.”

“I remember when I was a driver, a helicopter was hanging four meters above me during a race, then it turned and started to fly rearward, I saw the pilot’s eyes. It is unique professionals, unique specialists. So the pilots got close to KAMAZ and simply didn’t expect it to “fly” so high. Then the pilot came to us and apologised: ‘Lads, sorry for frightening you,’ the head of the Tatarstan team said.

Competitor and pilot Anton Shibalov himself said the danger of the episode was exaggerated and everything ended with apologies and jokes in the team.

“The year is special because of the pandemic, and the organisers created a sanitary regulation for us that indicates it is necessary to keep a social distance. So the helicopter kept a social distance, and we politely asked it for this, pushed it a bit,” Sotnikov joked.

“In fact, we didn’t even feel it. We didn’t even understand if we touched something or it was the noise of the stones. We saw some damage when we finished. The helicopter touched the plastic only with its skid,” Shibalov said.

“When I saw the destroyed roof at the end of the stage, I asked Anton: ‘Where did you find a tree in the desert?” Vladimir Chagin also decided to joke.

About upcoming premiere of Master TV series

The briefing ended with watching several videos where the drivers of the Tatarstan team starred. Journalists saw a video summary from the latest Dakar-2021 first, then they watched two videos about the upcoming premiere of a TV series about the Chelny team — the trailer itself and a clip about shooting in the series.

Everything looked quite spectacular and beautiful on the screen, but the competitors of the rally and shooting recognised again that, in fact, everything was much tougher.

“We watched the scenes of Dakar and film shooting and flashed back to the January Dakar battles and those shooting days last year,” head of the team Vladimir Chagin shared. “Tatarstan residents and all Russians will see that elite sport and the film industry closely intertwine. It is interesting to see the professional sport through a camera, how a victory is created, who is behind it, what happens backstage in elite sport.”

“I can say it is not a simple job, sometimes monotonous, boring, with long shifts,” winner of the latest rally Dmitry Sotnikov took the floor. “The first series impressed very much, and we didn’t think in the cabin it would be so beautiful. There were a lot of trials. While the weather in Astrakhan was so hot. It was much tougher in Kazakhstan, the country was in a difficult situation, the borders were closed. We overcame a lot of hardships, Kazakhstan lacks roads, but the scenes are amazing, you will see them in the series.”

Tatarstan Sport Minister Vladimir Leonov remembered the history of creation of the series too:

“There was an idea of shooting a film about the team some 5-6 years ago. We thought with Vladimir Chagin, called the team, the preparation took much time, the shooting was very tough. And the premiere took place recently, while the series will be released on Premier online platform on 18 February. I watched the first series on Vladimir Chagin’s invitation. The series turned out to be interesting. Actors were in the hall, the lads themselves... We liked it, Tatarstan residents must like it, and I think Russians will do too,” Leonov said.

By Erik Dobrolyubov. Photo: tatarstan.ru