Rally Raid Estonia to field duo of Dakar debutants in Urvo Männama, Toomas Triisa

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Credit: Pille Russi

Rally Raid Estonia will inject some, well, Estonian flavour into the 2023 Dakar Rally when they make their début in the legendary rally raid with a pair of countrymen and newcomers. Urvo Männama will race in the T1 category in a Toyota Hilux while Toomas Triisa is in a Can-Am in T4. Risto Lepik serves as the former’s co-driver and Mart Meeru works with the latter. The team revealed their Dakar lineup on Saturday at the T1 Tallinn shopping mall in the country’s capital.

Männama’s Hilux was acquired from Benediktas Vanagas, who has upgraded to a Hilux T1+ for the 2023 Rally. While Vanagas is from Lithuania, his co-driver Kuldar Sikk is Estonian.

Although Männama did not run any of the World Rally-Raid Championship legs in 2022, he is heavily involved in domestic and Eastern European rally raids. He and Lepik won their class at the Rallye Breslau in Poland in July.

Off the track, he is the director of corporate development for Foxway Recommerce, a company that provides resale services for electronic devices.

“The idea of ​​the Dakar Rally came to me a long time ago,” Männama told ERR Sport. “Once at school, I told a teacher that I would be the first Estonian to drive a car in the Dakar Rally. Another big idea was that I would be the first Estonian to drive a car to the top of Mount Everest, but this is a slightly more complicated plan.

“We actually wanted to participate last year, but a few months before, we went to compete in Morocco and there I had a bit of a bad feeling. I guess I wasn’t ready at that moment.

“The first goal was to make it to the Rally. Now, the goal is to make it to the end, because only half of the participants drive to the end of the Dakar Rally. Also, our goal is to be the best rookie in our class. You can only achieve this once, next year you won’t be able to.”

Triisa secured his spot in the race via the Road to Dakar, which rewards those with no prior Dakar Rally experience with a free entry if they perform well at select races. In particular, an eighth-place overall finish in the T4 class at the Rallye du Maroc in October was enough to receive an invite. Others to acquire 2023 Rally slots thanks to the programme include Stefano Caimi and Ruben Saldaña Goñi at the Rallye du Maroc, Luis Diaz Soza at the Atacama Rally, and David Pearson at the Sonora Rally.

He previously ran the Dakar Rally on a bike in 2017, winning the Malle Moto class. Officially known as Original by Motul, Malle Moto is infamously difficult as riders are not permitted any outside assistance beyond some supplies. Twenty-seven riders are competing in the category in 2023.

“Compared to motorcycles, only the journey that has to be taken is similar. Everything else is still radically different,” Triisa explained. “For us, the biggest difference is that there are two of us together: one drives and the other gives information about where we need to go. Putting the information together was the most difficult part of the preparation part.

“We have had to learn how the world of four-wheelers works. We have been preparing for the Rally since the beginning of summer. We finished the season at the last World Cup stage in Morocco, which is called the ‘Mini Dakar Rally’, and there we got an idea of ​​what the competition might look like.

“I’ve been a racer all my life, so the result is definitely important to me. We more or less know the possible competitors, because the World Cup stage in Morocco showed who is coming to the Dakar Rally. There are definitely some surprises that we haven’t seen yet. For us, the most difficult thing is that we don’t have a lot of experience with a four-wheeler. We have to use our opportunities wisely and avoid mistakes.”

The 2023 Dakar Rally begins on 31 December 2022.

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