Benediktas Vanagas‘ 2023 Dakar Rally abruptly ended when he crashed just four stages in, resulting in a concussion. Despite the disappointing end to his eleventh try at the race, he turned what was left of his Toyota GR DKR Hilux T1+ into a positive as he auctioned off its front fender, donating the resulting €7,500 to Ukrainian relief efforts.
Vanagas has supported Ukraine long before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February, which resonates with the general outlook in his native Lithuania; the two Eastern European nations are close allies, and Lithuania has often pledged friendship and assistance in helping Ukraine join the European Union and NATO. He is closely affiliated with Blue/Yellow, a Lithuanian non-government organisation that has provided equipment to Ukrainian forces since the Russo-Ukrainian War began in 2014. At the 2017 Dakar Rally, he carried the Ukrainian flag in his car.
Following the invasion, Vanagas grew more vocal in his condemnation of Russia’s actions and urged for aid to be supplied to Ukraine. Vanagas himself is contributing to the effort by donating off-road vehicles like SUVs and vans to the Ukrainian Army. By March, he had already helped give over thirty cars and even enduro motorcycles to the cause. A Volkswagen minivan was delivered to him on Thursday, which he will ship off to Ukraine along with another SUV and night vision equipment. The VŠĮ National Automobile Club in Vilnius works as a liaison alongside Blue/Yellow to facilitate transport.
Besides the fender, a Red Bull cap autographed by Dakar winner and fellow Toyota Hilux driver Nasser Al-Attiyah went up for auction a week prior and closed at €1,000. The winner, a man named Žydrūnas Zalieckas, picked up the hat on Thursday.
Vanagas’ sponsors Skaylink (a cloud firm), garden center Ginalas STIHL, and Toyota dealership Tokvila have each donated €2,500. Watchmaker Vostok Europe, another backer of his, sold 200 pieces of a special watch model shortly after the invasion that raised €60,000 in aid.
Outside of racing and perhaps a testament to his willingness to directly support the military, Vanagas serves in the Lithuanian National Defence Volunteer Forces. He enlisted in 2021.
The widely condemned invasion is currently in its 338th day. Its effects have produced massive consequences for motorsport, with teams from Russia and ally Belarus being effectively barred from FIA- and FIM-sanctioned competition. The FIA maintains a policy that competitors from the two countries must sign saying they oppose the war; while some like Alexey Kuzmich, Denis Krotov, and Konstantin Zhiltsov agreed to the terms and raced at the 2023 Dakar Rally, others like T5 category powerhouse KAMAZ-master refused and did not appear.
Many racing entities including the FIA and its member clubs have either given statements of solidarity with Ukraine or given tangible support of varying degree. 2017 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona GTD winner Michael Christensen auctioned off his Rolex victor’s watch in September, garnering €88,800 for the Save the Children Fund. NASCAR Cup Series team owner Richard Childress gave one million rounds of ammunition to the Army a week after the invasion launched. Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske donated to philanthropic funds, while Spire Motorsports partnered with the Ukranian American Coordinating Council in May to help provide gear for civil defence.
Antanas Juknevičius, another Lithuanian rally raider who skipped the 2023 Rally due to supply chain issues exacerbated by COVID-19 and the war, also donates vehicles to Ukraine’s military. American off-road racer David Caspino, a former combat medic, travelled to Ukraine to provide transport and medical aid for refugees.