Dmitry Sotnikov: I thought my brain would explode, assembling a new KAMAZ


The winner of the Silk Way Rally in the truck category Dmitry Sotnikov, in an interview with the correspondent of RIA News Sergei Astakhov, told in detail about the new truck of KAMAZ-master team indexed 435091, the problems that he had to face during its creation, and advantage of the truck over the previous generation. Also, the 36-year-old pilot, who became the only three-time champion in the history of the Silk Way Rally, noted the rivalry with the Belarusian Siarhei Viazovich and spoke about the high interest in the new product from Naberezhnye Chelny from rivals of the Dakar Rally.

We slept for 4-5 hours all June

- What does the driver do after winning the Silk Way Rally?

  - We returned home in the evening of July 7, the day after the end of the race. And almost immediately went to bed. Still a different time zone with a four-hour difference, a long flight, and went to work in the morning. We have already carried out a small analysis of the race, made a plan to finish the new truck. I managed to relax only on Saturday, but nobody canceled household duties (laughs): I chose presents for my parents for birthdays.

- Isn't the victory the main gift?

- Of course, they were pleased. My father congratulated me at the airport upon meeting and was pleased with this achievement.

- Is there a place for a new trophy at home?

- There is some for now. At the end of last year, I made a shelf stand with a margin, and already in 2021 two prizes were added. Let's see how long it will be completed (laughs). The White Tiger has not taken its place in the house yet: first, I took it to work to show for the team members and then I will take it to Moscow, where we will have various events.

- Your victory was a big surprise. Did you set the goal for yourself to fight for the first place, or was it more important to test the new KAMAZ and reach the finish line without breakdowns?

- We set a goal to complete the race at our usual level. We understood that technical problems could arise and that we would have to deal with all of that onsite. It's good that things had gone differently, there were no global problems. I think that the key to success also lies in the fact that we thoroughly prepared the truck at home; in Omsk we spent more time with the vehicle than all other guys. All this brought results. For us, this is the second experience when a truck is assembled from scratch and shows a victorious result. This already happened in 2017, and it has happened now. Once again it confirms that, in spite of everything, you must always fight for high places to the end. The battle for the podium is not only on the track, but also before the race, and on the bivouac - how well you prepare the truck and the crew, such result will you have.

- Which of the five stages was the most difficult?

 - The last one. There was a margin of time, but it could easily have been lost at one stop. The track was known, as we were driving it for the second time, I realized that people from behind were attacking, they were going fast. I noticed that we had small problems with the cab suspension, I worried nothing to be broken. We tried to drive carefully, while Anton Shibalov and Siarhei Viazovich drove really fast in the fight for the second position. The day turned out hot in the literal sense of this word - high temperature outside, psychological pressure from rivals. 

- Did you have to restrain temper at the marathon stage?

- Perhaps it seemed so because we were driving one of the first, there was only one car in front of us. There were no tracks, and we had to focus on navigation, which is very different from the Dakar. We had to be careful, we were not driving in our style. We didn’t lose so much, but we realized that the next day we would switch positions, the whole picture would be before our eyes. When you see your rivals, you control the run of the race, which was shown by the fourth stage, when we returned the lost time. 

- How can a pilot motivate himself when the race route is shortened?

  - It was necessary to understand that in the leading group the one will stay who will not make a mistake. It was important to exclude any mistake. A kind of an indicative moment became talks that 5 minutes in the truck category were already a real breakaway, although in rally-raids this is generally a drop in the bucket, it can be lost just by replacing one wheel.

- Is it more interesting than the break-off in hours?

- Yes. Tension is in the air; the struggle is serious. People attack, take risks on the track. But it is unreal to drive in this mode all the time.

   We will remodel the new truck

- How many sleepless nights did you spend assembling the truck?

  - June turned out to be the most intense. We slept for 4-5 hours - stayed late at work, and already early in the morning started physical training. And when the week before going to the Silk Way Rally the truck started to drive, it became even tougher: we went home at 2 a.m. to sleep for a couple of hours and returned to work before dawn. For the first time I managed to get enough sleep only in Omsk, when there were a couple of calm days. We could recover, gain strength.

- Were there doubts that nothing would work out with the truck, that you would have to start on an old one?

- Yes, there were. Honestly, at the same time we were preparing our old KAMAZ. We had a deadline on June 15, when it was necessary to make a decision on which one to go. A day of a delay - and a risk to have no time to prepare the same as the old or the new truck. Everyone who worked on the new truck understood that it was necessary to bring the work to the end, but we did not know how the new KAMAZ would behave after leaving the shop, how everything would turn out technologically.And when the truck drove for the first time, we realized that we would go to the race on it. Even if it is under-tuned. Of course, there were problems in the tests, it could not be otherwise when you are building a completely new truck. For example, on the second day of tests at the testing field the body began to burst. Literally two hours later we had to send it for repair, and continue to drive ourselves. The guys repaired it until nightfall, painted it, and early in the morning they collected it and put it in place. In general, the schedule was non-stop, every hour was counting.

- You have this KAMAZ in a single copy. Did you take a lot of spare parts with you?

  - The chassis is similar to the previous model in terms of configuration, so many parts fit us. We drove without limiting ourselves in anything. The race was developing in such a way that it allowed us to drive more accurately, with restraint. We had a little less risk than others.

- How many people were involved in the truck creation?

- I was fully involved in organizing all the work. When the guys left work, I wrote detailed lists for each person. There were 11 workers, plus the navigator Ilgiz Akhmetzianov, who had enough work of his own. Also the whole engineering department of seven people, other people. More than 20 people were continuously busy with the truck. You can compare this with other KAMAZ trucks, where 2-3 people work on each one, completely disassembling and assembling it.A large number of people is a real problem: everyone has his own questions, and I and the head of the design department, Evgenii Iakovlev, had all the information. It seemed that I would be torn to pieces, and my brain would explode (laughs). Everyone needs answers to questions not later, but now. I came to work early to write a work plan, left late to check everything. This is not an easy job: there were 80 items on the list that must be divided among employees according to their qualifications.

- Did you take on this role voluntarily?

  - The driver is responsible for his truck, and organization of work is in his responsibility. I understood what needs to be done first, what can be postponed to the background. There was a lot of communication with all departments, every detail had to be monitored. And we even had to abandon some things. 

- The winner of the SWR KAMAZ-435091 is not the final version of the truck, is it?

- Of course not. We will rebuild the truck. This one has an advantage in its layout: the position of the engine and the cab has changed, the weight of the truck has been slightly reduced, plus a completely different design. Now KAMAZ looks very impressive. Perhaps the others will follow us to make the truck standings even more beautiful (laughs).

The new cab led to the fact that the engine was shifted back, the adjustments of the suspension and the truck, the cab itself, changed the weight distribution - currently there is almost ideal (50:50) weight distribution along the axles. Now the truck is better controlled, although in this respect we are far from ideal. When sitting closer to the front axle or behind it, you feel the truck better, control the front and rear axles, which is very important.

- KAMAZ-master has been updated. And Gerard de Rooy for the Dakar decided to renovate the ancient DAF with two cabins from the 80s of the last century.

- It is clear that this is for the Classic standings, where old cars compete. We may have something similar in the future, who knows. In the museum of the team there are old trucks, and it will be an interesting adventure for some crews to drive such a Dakar Classic. It is interesting even to try it ourselves, to realize how it was before, when there were other speeds, suspensions and so on. 

 The race is always more interesting with ambitious rivals

- When did you realize that your KAMAZ with a K5 family cab can give results?

- After two special stages, we realized that the truck is competitive. Although after that the rivals began to attack, to balance the situation. We had some minor problems: we had to change the cab suspension and settings. The truck could go fast; it was clear that this was not the speed limit. The stages were not very long, but on the second day the truck performed very well in different conditions. 

- The regulations limit the maximum speed at 140 kmh. Technical specifications indicate that the truck accelerates up to 165 kmh. Were you able to achieve these indicators on tests in order to understand where the safety limit for the crew and equipment is?

- We do not do such tests. It makes no sense to accelerate above the prescribed 140 kmh.

- What engine does the truck have?

- Similar to Anton Shibalov’s one, that performed at the Dakar. It is an inline, six-cylinder, turbocharged, intercooled diesel engine. The working volume is 12.98 liters, the power is 1100 hp, the torque is 4500 Nm. The transmission is automatic.

- Siarhei Viazovich wondered: "What did KAMAZ-master put on, that I can't catch up with them?" Did you tell him?

- It is always more interesting to compete with ambitious rivals. Siarhei is a very attentive racer, always pays attention to all little things and details. We drove a lot of races with him, talked with him, and he was sure that his truck is faster. And he, perhaps, simply did not expect that the new KAMAZ will be competitive and faster. It turned out that we immediately successfully got into the initial settings. Perhaps, it was also the fact that the first days all the drivers were careful. Siarhei then came to us, asked a lot of questions, shared information himself, but there is always rivalry between design departments and there is no need for frankness.

Yes, we did such a truck first. And it was not an easy process. We test everything ourselves, design, find some things that can be implemented. All information is worth a lot of resources, efforts of engineering thought and findings of our guys.

 The whole world is watching the new KAMAZ-master truck

- Tell your readers how you manage to hide ideas when the whole truck on the bivouac is open to the outsider's view?

- It's one thing to see, but it's also important to understand what has been changed and why. You can see the suspension travel, but in fact, the visual overview will not give anything to the opponent, because there is no complex information. Perhaps he will understand the logic, but often it is unreal to simply copy a technical solutions.

- It turns out that until you babble, there is nothing to be afraid of?

- Yes, it's important not to talk about the truck in detail (laughs).

- Did you manage to surprise your competitors?

- I think yes. Nobody expected our victory, including those who perform at the Dakar, but did not arrive at the SWR, sitting at home, they are watching us. For us, this is a psychological advantage, but we cannot lower the bar either. I see that Martin Macik has built a new truck, de Rooy has built three. This is serious. Gerard came to Omsk not for nothing and he probably watched us as well.

- Due to cancellation of the Mongolian part of the SWR, you did not manage to test the KAMAZ in sands and dunes. How did you assume such turn of events?

- We were upset. We expected a long race, in fact we were rolling into the competition in the first days. The whole fight had to be in Mongolia, as well as checking the truck on all types of surfaces. We were still surprised when, at the finish of the second special stage, the police asked us where we were going next. When we answered that to Mongolia, they asked how we would get there while the border was closed. Indeed, at the evening briefing the rally management announced a change in the route.

- Where will you go for tests before the Dakar?

- Everything will depend on coronavirus restrictions. In July, we will not have time to change anything globally in the truck - the whole team was working to the limit, and we all need a little vacation. And by the end of September we will be able to rebuild the truck, test it, for example, in Kazakhstan. There is a varied track with sands, rocky areas, long distances.

- Do you have any doubts of this KAMAZ performance at the Dakar?

- None. The plan is outlined and it will be carried out. Moreover, after the positive result on the Silk Way Rally, everyone is looking forward to what we will be able to achieve on the Arabian Peninsula.

- Will there be a new truck in January, or will you have time to build more?

- In theory, anything is possible. I am not ready to speak on this topic now, as there should be a general weighed decision of the plant and team management. As building a new truck in three-month time requires a lot of work. It is important to understand that not all components are available, and this truck will actually go to the race from the workshop. It is most likely that we will refine the current truck.

 The first design sketches were in Hot Wheels style.

- Which of the fellow drivers in KAMAZ-master got behind the wheel of your truck in order to compare it with his own?

- Nobody yet. But I think this will happen in the near future. We still need to improve the suspension, we ourselves do not know everything about our truck. There were no global problems on the Silk Way, everything was as usual.

- It's rare that everything worked out perfectly. Usually "weaknesses" come out immediately.

- So it happened. We tried to eliminate all the weaknesses at home, and the truck showed itself well in the race. But you need to understand that the rally distance was short. We have not gathered all the information, and for this we need to drive more than one thousand kilometers.

- How would you describe the new KAMAZ?

- Modern, sporty and fast. The first design sketches were in Hot Wheels style, but we had to simplify it. The element of a toy in appearance is noted by many, plus black inserts on the body.

- Did you create the design inside the team?

- All previous versions were made in KAMAZ-master, but this time we found a designer. This is a young guy who is currently working in the team. He did a great job, together we went through a huge number of options. For two months there was a discussion of the design, and in winter the head of the team, Vladimir Gennadievich Chagin, signed the project. But, I say, it will still change.

- In the age of the Internet, there were no leaks. How did you manage to keep the secret about the truck?

- There were a lot of pictures, and it was not completely clear what the final one would be. I had a sketch of the design as well, but I also did not understand which option would be accepted. We shared information in a narrow circle, tried not to take anything out. Even guys in the shop did not know what would be in the end. When they received complex drawings and images, they were shocked that we were doing all that. The truck itself was completely assembled just before the presentation, which took place on June 25 and made a real shock. There were photos taken on the way to the testing field, but then the truck was not fully assembled, it was without livery, and no one knew what kind of truck it would be.

A good future awaits Karimov 

- Viazovich as a part of KAMAZ-master. Is it a fantasy?

- Probably. We do not have such a practice for people to move from team to team. Although such cases do occur in Europe. Siarhei is the leader of his team, everything is built around him. Here he will have to be one of others, reckon with the rest. At KAMAZ-master, decisions are made collectively. 

- Do the words of the Belarusian that this race was unsuccessful for your team, because he was ahead of six Blue Armada trucks and lost only to a new truck, do they spur?

- If to look at monitoring, then many of our guys in some sections drove faster than Siarhei, just somewhere dust, narrow roads and other circumstances interfered. The race turned out a bit short, and not everyone could play the lag created by Viazovich in the first stages. And Anton Shibalov could be ahead, there was simply not enough time. I'm sure our previous models can go fast and there is no need to put anything on the new K5. The person behind the wheel is still one of the most important factors in the race.

- Bogdan Karimov, at the age of 23, made his debut at the Silk Way Rally at the wheel of KAMAZ. What about your teammate?

- He's a very modest guy. And he's doing his job. He has a fighting grip, Bogdan is charged for work. We advise him, he shares his problems. Everything is still open for him, he needs to go and progress. And the speed and experience will come when he fully feels the truck, his level will rise immediately, without even noticing it. Bogdan has a young navigator. This is a growing crew that has a good future ahead.

- Do you feel the rivalry?

- Undoubtedly. There are many promising guys in our team who will eventually replace our generation. All of them are ambitious. As we are.