Rallye Dakar: Report

01. bis 14. Jänner 2017
Stnr. 321: Martin Prokop (CZE)/Ilka Minor (AUT) Ford F150 Raptor, Eleventh place

At her Dakar debut Ilka had to learn the hard way - which the perfectionist isn’t used to. But after 12 exhausting and fulfilled days Ilka Minor and Martin Prokop scored 11th place as the best private team. The „neo desert fox“ fell for the „Queen of marathon rallies“ - she would do it again anytime…

The world famous Rally Dakar has its own law - participants can be very well prepared for this 12 day long trip through South American off-road and desert terrain and trained on a highly professional level but nothing can replace the experience of participating. Dakar rookie Ilka had to learn this the hard, at times even painful way. More of that later.

Not long after the start in Paraguay, however, there was reason to concern for how long the adventure would last. „The first gravel stages were so fast and muddy, that our Ford Raptors engine overheated. We didn’t know if anything was broken, as we drove with the overheated engine for quite a while.“ After the inspection by Martin Prokops private team they found out that the car was intact and the adventure could go on.

The „Pokemon Go“-Mistake

Soon Ilka made the mistake that cost the Austrian Czech duo an hour penalty time and swapped them out of the best ten. „We missed a track point. Track points are virtual points on the GPS, which can be compared to the game Pokemon Go.“ The difference being that finding a track point won’t be rewarded but missing one has strict consequences. Ilka explains how it happened „It was at a river bed and we were quite close to the track point, but a few hundred meters before that, was another river bed. When we turned at that one the GPS gave me a signal that we missed a track point and asked if we wanted to skip it. I said “Yes” and that was the big mistake - a beginner’s mistake, as we should have turned around and driven back.

That shows how theory and reality drifts apart. In the course of her preparation Ilka got advice from her German colleague Timo Gottschalk, who has Dakar experience for about 10 years. „Timo was my teacher and he said over and over again ‚Always go back to the point where you came from‘. And then that’s exactly what I didn’t do.“ Right after making the mistake it hit Ilka and she told herself over and over again „Never skip a track point! NEVER. SKIP. A. TRACK. POINT.“

A burden to carry

While Martin Prokop reacted calm and was never angry with Ilka, she herself had a hard time coping with an unfamiliar situation like this. „I’m a perfectionist and I don’t want to make mistakes. At the WRC I’m successful in doing so.“ At the first I felt like packing my bags and going back home, I was so angry with myself. It was a burden I had to carry - every day I thought ‚Hopefully nothing happens today‘. In the WRC the risk of a driving mistake is higher - it was very new for me to be the one who has more responsibility. I then also saw that there are professional off-road co-pilots who make the same mistake. It happens. She adds laughingly „At some track points it occurs that 5 cars and 10 bikes look for the same virtual point. It’s so bizarre sometimes.“

I am from Austria

Not, however, that they got altitude sick, as worried about before going on the 6 day trip 4000m above sea level, but Ilka says „Luckily no one of our team was affected by that - only a few other participants suffered from it a bit.“ One rest day turned into two rest days due to a cancelled stage, but the motivation didn’t go missing, quite the opposite in fact „The rest day took place in La Paz, Bolivia. This town lies at about 3200m above sea level in a hollow and goes up to 4100m above sea level. We went up in a cable car and were asked where we were from. When I told them‚ I am from Austria‘, they told me that the cable car was built by the Austrian company Doppelmayr“.

Also Martin and Ilka helped out a Czech biker, who asked them for support after crashing at the finish line of the stage. „One of his handlebars was ripped off and with it the clutch cable. That’s why he couldn’t start it anymore. We towed his bike to the next bivouac.“

20 hard & 1 extremely hard night

In those bivouacs Ilka spent 20 nights in a camper, only one night - the one in between the two marathon days - was spent in a hotel near the bivouac. After the marathon days another stage was cancelled due to landslides. „Part of the field could take the original route, but we couldn’t. Our people told us about a pile-up 100 km ahead of us - the 330km long alternative route took our team six hours, because of the extremely bad road conditions. It wasn’t that bad for us in the Raptor, but the next day was cancelled and we had to travel 1000km to the next bivouac. When we made it there, we didn’t have anything but our car, so that’s where we slept. Later, when the racetrack arrived, we continued sleeping there, and at 3a.m. our camper finally reached the bivouac and we could go back to sleep in our usual beds. That was an exhausting night.“ That night was followed by a last hard day. „At one stage, a lot of co-pilots, including professional off-road ones were looking for a certain track point and it took quite a while. It took us 20 minutes. After that day the stages became to look more like the WRC ones, not that many off-road parts.“ The last challenge were 670km road section to the ceremonial finish of the rally. A lot of chit chatting? „No!“, Ilka says, „Martin and I are both pretty quiet people. So we might talk for a few minutes, but then it’s quiet again for a while.“

Respect to the team

At the end comes the big reward. Ilka and Martin made it to 11th place as the best private team. Ilka reviews „Interpersonally everything was great, Martin and his team were always nice and up for a few jokes. I can only salute this small, but very fine team - they got the Ford Raptor in July and in these few months up until December they managed to set up the car so it could last a rally this long without any troubles. Respect to the mechanics, too, they had very little sleep during the Dakar as they had to work at night but also get to the next bivouac during the day. What a great team. There wasn’t bad mood or attitude at any time, even though everyone was exhausted.“ Ilka herself found the 20 nights in a camper quite unusual „Martin and I each had our little private section - space was definitely limited, but everything went smoothly. Of course, what I enjoyed most at home was the shower and not having to think about water management.“

Truthfully - what does Ilka prefer: WRC or Off-Road? „You can’t compare the two at all - they are like apples and oranges. Off-road sport definitely focuses more on team spirit, because you spend way more time together, but I like both a lot.“ If given the chance, Ilka definitely wants to participate in the Dakar 2018……

Rallye Dakar: Report

01. - 14.01.2017
Stnr. 321: Martin Prokop (CZE)/Ilka Minor (AUT) Ford F150 Raptor, Eleventh place

Ilkas biggest adventure has begun

At 223 international Rally competitions Ilka Minor has indeed experienced a lot. But on January 2nd her biggest adventure so far begins - as Martin Prokops Copilot Ilka makes her debut at the world famous Rally Dakar.

125 World Championship Rallys, 223 overall Rally starts - with that impressive interim result of her international career as rally co-pilot, Ilka now breaks a whole new ground. The 41 year old, who lives in Vienna, will participate in the world famous Rally Dakar for the very first time, which will take place in south america from January 2nd to 14th and is known as the „queen“ of marathon rally.

Austrians peak in the bivouac

A decade after former rally pilot Raphael Sperrers start at the Rally Dakar, Austria is again represented in the field of Dakar cars. Martin Prokop and Ilka Minor will start at number 321 with a Ford F150 Raptor, which is deployed by the private team of the successful WRC privateer. As a bike pilot Matthias Walkner is the only other Austrian at the Rally Dakar. Was there any contacting between the two Austrians? Ilka laughs „Maybe we would have talked on the phone if we knew each other. I only saw him once, from far away, but I think our paths might cross at the bivouac, where all the Rally Dakar participants will stay. It’s always nice to chat with Austrians when I’m far from home.

Poisonous Snakes and Giant Spiders

The bivouac is basically the Rally Dakars mobile base - including Ilkas and Martins caravan. Due to limited space the mechanics of the Prokop-Crew, like many others, have to sleep in tents, which usually isn’t the worst outlook, but this year the Rally Dakar takes place in Paraguay. Ilka explains „I’ve heard that there are many poisonous snakes and giant spiders in Paraguay“. She adds with a wink „The google image search is not very comforting“ So the at 39 stage kilometre relatively short start might not be the only „hot action“ of the first day…

On the second day 275 kilometers will be completed, the sp lengths will be increased to 500 stage kilometres in the course of the rally. On the longest day they will cover a distance of nearly 1000 kilometers, of which 406 will be in sp-mode. Ilka admits „I’ve never been in a competition car for so long. The seats are very similar to the ones in a rally car. The bucket seats ears are slightly smaller, so the helmet doesn’t hit against it all the time and also the seat position is different since it’s important to see far distances to recognize eventual dangers as soon as possible.

Seasick in the desert

Those, who drove in the desert with a well suspended vehicle, will probably agree with Ilka „Sometimes it’s going up so steep that you can only see the sky and then it right the next second you are going downhill almost free falling. It’s easy to not only lose orientation but also to get seasick. At this years Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge many pilots got seasick and it went so far that some of them had to give up the rally. Luckily our team completed a desert test and we could prepare for it.“

The more so as basically everything is different in the desert: There is no inspection like in a classic rally. The roadbook is the bible, along with a box equipped with a display. The scenario reminds of computer games. Ilka explains „We check track points in the roadbook and a GPS box with an inbuilt compass shows certain information. There are open track points: the box shows a compass needle, an arrow that points in the direction we need to go in. When the tracepoint is reached, an acoustic signal rings out. At hidden track points the arrow disappears, the display switches to a number and coordinates, which makes it a lot harder to keep going in the right direction. As soon as the 800m radius of a hidden track point is entered, the compass returned to the display.“ Analoge compasses and smartphones are prohibited. But what can be found in Martins and Ilkas Raptor is a good old „Knight Rider“ satellite phone. „The satellite phone is allowed - a regular phone wouldn’t have good service anyway and the satellite is always reachable.“ The so-called „Black Box“ which allows the participants to send information to the race control, is also based on that technology. „If someone got injured in an accident you press the red button. Green means crash without any injuries, and blue that you are stopping the car to get out and help others.

Altitude sick at 4000 meter

On the third day in Bolivia the Dakar participants are „moved“ from 300m sea level to 4000m. Six days will be spent there, at up to 4900m sea level. The participants are aware of the danger of getting altitude sick. That’s why Martin, his girlfriend and Ilka completed a special fitness training at 2500m sea level in Colorado/USA. Ilka reports „We were there for 15 days to get an idea what the conditions will be like in Bolivia. At the same time it was a good test for us, to see if we can get along at such narrow space for a relatively long time. And it worked great. Martin was alway in a good mood and very friendly, but at the same time extremely focused. Martin seams kind of cosy on the outside, but he is very fit and a tough nut.

„Don’t believe in Yeti“

Ilka Minor, who is a professional Health Fitness & Personal Trainer and also Functional Strength Master Trainer, foresees extrem physical stress in those six days at over 4000m sea level, as she herself had to rest for a whole afternoon during the training in Colorado. Ilka explains „ It’s important to drink a lot of water, that way you can avoid problems.“ But nobody is completely save from

getting altitude sick. Ilka adds grinning „Some have even seen a Yeti in such high altitude. I personally don’t believe in Yeti, as far as I’m concerned he only exists at Skoda. So should I see one, I know what to do“ What Ilka would do if Martin said something really weird? „Of course, I’d try to find out if it is alerting, but her would do the same if I said strange stuff.“

The danger of the rest day

The fact that the rest day falls into those six days at high altitude doesn’t make it easier. Ilka explains why „A lot of pilots with Dakar experience have told me that the rest day is the worst. It’ like that: At the regular sprint rallies , that I have done so far, the adrenalin level is so high, that it’s easy to keep fit during the duration of the rally. It often happens that you get instantly tired after passing the finish line. At the Rally Dakar the restudy comes with the danger of having a hard time to get motivated the next day. That’s why I’ll try to keep moving on the rest day.“ At the suggestion to do that with halftime interviews, she laughs again „Of course, that would be the best motivation…“ As the retinue of cars, bikes, quads and trucks will go downhill, to complete the last challenges in Argentina, at least the landscape will be familiar to Ilka. „We’ll be in the area, where the special stages of the Argentina Rally took place.“ There she and Evgeny Novikov got 4th place in 2013.

Finish line as Goal

For her Dakar premier Ilka deliberately renounces any speculation for a specific place. „It’s the first Dakar for me and that’s why the finish line is clearly my goal. It would be awesome if I could make it all the way through my first Dakar.“ The hopes are high, as Martin Prokop did so at his first Dakar last year. He got 14th place in the end. A lot of well known World Rally Championship pilots were listet at last years Dakar - Sebastian Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen, Carlos Sainz and Xavier Pons, to name a few. Next to Dakar pros like Stephane Peterhansel, Nani Roma or Giniel de Villiers the top favorite is all-round genie Nasser Al-Attiyah. „He is hard to bend under regular circumstances“ Ilka says about him.

„I’m very well prepared - in theory. I don’t know if I can find use of all my new insights. Martin is a balanced Pilot and his private team is small but very fine.“ Ilka concluded. Keyword „fine“: Ilka was very happy about the Austrian local medias interest on her Dakar premier. „The „Kronen-Zeitung“ newspaper has to be praised for regularly reporting about Austrian motorsport athletes. But this time even high quality newspapers like „Standard“ and „Die Presse“ contacted me. It’s not to be taken for granted that newspapers like this write about motor sport. „Die Presse“ released a very nice story about us in December 24th.“ „ So I think it’s time to say ‚Thank you‘“, says Ilka before leaving for the airport on the 27th to face her biggest adventure.