Off Road

KAMAZ-master presses on with rally raid programme despite invasion fallout

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Credit: KAMAZ-master

Russian team KAMAZ-Master is the master of the Dakar Rally Trucks, having won the rally raid’s category nineteen times including every year but two since 2009; in January, the team swept the Rally’s top four positions. However, since its country’s invasion of Ukraine, the organisation also received its share of the consequences as foreign sponsors back out.

KAMAZ-master is the racing division of truck builder KAMAZ (Kama Automobile Plant), which is partly owned by state-run corporations and supplies vehicles like personnel transporters to the Russian armed forces. With the parent company deeply involved in Russia’s so-called “special military operation”, it has been subject to international sanctions that tanked its finances; according to CEO Sergei Kogogin at last week’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the company is seeking to boost domestic sales of its consumer trucks to make up for a lack of outside investments and decrease in exports, most of which go to ex-Soviet states.

The invasion’s ramifications prompted KAMAZ-master to rethink its business model since winning the 2022 Rally. The team put on sale some of its race vehicles with the cheapest being a 2004 KAMAZ-4911 that won the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge thrice for 8.2 million rubles (€141,203.71 as of this article’s publishing) and the priciest a newly built KAMAZ-43509 worth 60 million ₽ (€1,033,197.87); a 2007 KAMAZ-4326 with Dakar experience went for 10.4 million ₽ (€179,087.63). Team director Vladimir Chagin, a seven-time Dakar champion, told Match TV in May that development of its KAMAZ K5 had to rely on substitute products made internally. Gazprom, a state-owned energy company, collaborated with the team to build new trucks powered by a mixture of gasoline and diesel, a fuel source that was added to the sold 4326.

KAMAZ-master’s trucks notably no longer have Red Bull sponsorship adorning them as the energy drink company has pulled its support. As such, the team’s budget is more reliant on its parent. Despite losing outside sponsors, Chagin explained the team still maintains relationships with them and “hope that partnership will be revived in the near future.”

Although the team is still competing in domestic events, outside competitions such as the 2023 Dakar Rally are unknown. In March, the FIA prohibited Russian drivers and teams from competing under their country’s flag and instead use a neutral licence, while FIA-sanctioned events could not take place within the nation. The same penalty was imposed on Belarus, an ally of Russia who allowed Russian troops to enter Ukraine from its side of the border; Western sanctions reportedly prevented the Belarusian truck team MAZ-Sportauto (a factory team for the impacted Minsk Automobile Plant) from competing at Dakar. Russian Formula One driver Nikita Mazepin, who lost his seat following the invasion and was sanctioned as well, has since switched to off-road.

With few international options, KAMAZ-master is currently focused on the Silk Way Rally, which is part of the non-FIA Russian Cross-Country Rally Championship, on 6–16 July. The team will field four entries like at Dakar as Eduard Nikolaev and Dmitry Sotnikov pilot KAMAZ-435091s while Andrey Karginov is in a 43509. In Anton Shibalov‘s place will be Sergey Kupriyanov, who is driving the gas/diesel hybrid truck. With the exception of 2011, KAMAZ has won every edition of the rally.

“Whether we will be admitted to Dakar is not up to us,” Kogogin said at the SPIEF. “It is better not to have excessive optimism now. There is the example of MAZ. Therefore, it is useless to talk with organisers at this stage.

“There is the Silk Road. KAMAZ-master is in a stable condition, working on the modernisation of vehicles. The company has no intention to limit the team. It is impossible to abandon the team created for decades.”

The widely condemned Russian invasion of Ukraine is currently in its fourth month. The Federation Automobile de l’Ukraine suspended all motorsport events under its supervision in late May.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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