Kees Koolen looks back on his Dakar rally 2023. A race with highlights and setbacks.
A tough race under extreme conditions
Dakar 2023 was a challenge as it should be: a tough, difficult race. And it was even harder than expected due to the extreme rainfall in the desert.
The first few days were not easy. We had relatively many equipment breakdowns, reaching a peak on day 2. Having made it 90 km into the race, we lost the windshield after hitting a tree. We had to continue the race that day without a windshield but wearing cross glasses instead. And another hundred kilometers further, the steering rod gave up service. During the repair, heavy rainfall approached and since the truck did not have a windshield anymore, so much water got into the dashboard that the central software system failed. We had to continue our race at a maximum speed of 50 km/h since the truck would simply not go any faster. Fortunately, after it dried out, the system started working again and we still arrived on time that day. But the problems continued the following days, causing issues with the automatic gearbox and the turbo.
From day 5 our race finally started going well. With the many narrow stone paths and difficult dune passages, I was really in my element. On day 8, after a day without any problems, we finished 7th. At this point, only 18 of the 54 trucks that started were still competitive in the race. That shows how extremely tough this edition was.
Day 9 started well. After 137 kilometers we suddenly saw 3 trucks stuck in a wide, almost dry riverbed. We drove 2 kilometers further looking for a narrower spot to cross. We managed to reach the other side, full of enthusiasm about making it across, but that was short-lived as the truck turned off shortly after. We spent another 3 hours trying everything to get it up and running again, but without luck. The ECU (computer of the engine and gearbox) and the CAN bus system (the communication system that connects the computer with all the sensors and controls) turned out to be broken. This was the end of Dakar 2023 for us.
Showing leadership when the going gets tough
When you experience such a setback in a high-adrenaline context, it is important to remain calm. It is a very emotional moment, but there is no point in panicking or getting angry. That worked out well for us this year. As a team, we were calm and first went looking for a solution so we could continue the race. When it turned out that there was no way we could solve the problem ourselves and would not make the maximum time even with outside equipment, it was immediately clear to us: this was the end of this Dakar rally for our team.
We are not competing "just for fun," we are going for the win. To just finish the race when you have no chance of a good position anymore is quite dangerous in my view, as you are no longer concentrating on the race. I am responsible for the team and in such a situation the priority is to ensure that the team and the truck arrive safely back at the bivouac.
Setbacks are part of it. What matters is what you learn from them and how you can shift your focus to the future, coming back stronger next time. I apply the very same principles to innovating and building successful businesses.
While we were waiting to be picked up from the desert, we were already thinking about the next Dakar and what we were going to do differently and better. This is possible when you have a clear goal together as a team and work towards it with equal ambitions. That is what makes our team so strong. We are currently working hard to integrate the FIA-approved Super B batteries into our new electric truck, Nicias V1. We are doing this in the Czech Republic, where we are working with Martin Macik's team and Arnaud Prati's KHAP Technology, who give us access to the best people and equipment available. We expect the all-electric truck to be ready in May or June for our first private test race. In October we want to test the electric truck in the actual desert so that it will be ready on time for Dakar 2024.
Our goal for Nicias is to prove that clean energy technologies can compete with fossil fuels. And through participating in the Dakar rally, we can demonstrate this to the world under the most challenging conditions. We want to accelerate the use of clean mobility, also for heavy transport.
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