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Anatomy of a Dakar-spec Lada Niva

17.11.2021

In January 2022, Motul’s head of brand will head to the desert of Saudi Arabia where he will embark on a lifelong dream to compete in the Dakar Classic. His companion will be a trusty Lada Niva, similar to the one his father raced in the 1980s. Romain guides us around the key details that goes into turning a rugged Niva into a Dakar dune basher.

Anatomy of a Dakar-spec Lada Niva

Safety

Dakar Classic is not as strict as the 'official' Dakar about the requirements for cars to compete. They had to compete in the Dakar from 1979 to 2000, but after that it’s pretty flexible. I decided I will do it the way my dad did it in 1982. I didn’t want to make a racing car with all the latest technology, but to stick to period, stock parts. The mechanical parts are 100% new, and 90% of the parts are Lada genuine spare parts provided by tout-le-niva.com. But one of the most important changes I have to make is to safety. So I had to give the car racing seats and harnesses, a roll cage, even the helmet, gloves and boots have to be FIA approved. Also, the car has two fire extinguishers installed.

Safety

FIA approved fuel tank

Installing an FIA fuel tank was not mandatory, but in the end I didn’t want to take any risks here. I wanted the best and it is a specialist one for racing. It holds 80 litres because the stages are quite long and we need enough fuel to cover 350 kilometres without refuelling.
 

FIA approved fuel tank

Suspension is key

The suspension is really important. When I did the Morocco Rally with the car on its stock suspension, I quickly learned that I needed to upgrade it. It wasn’t comfortable for the passenger and, with bad suspension, you create damage on the car because of the vibrations as there’s nothing to absorb the shocks. We changed to Koni suspension and now we have two shock absorbers per wheel at the front and one per wheel at the rear. We have been talking with many Niva experts and they said the most important thing was to have the support at the front because there’s a lot of weight there.
 

Suspension is key

Reliability

Every racing team will tell you they don’t want any compromise in lubricants. The cost of entering the Dakar is high, so you want to finish and to do that you need good products. And as you can imagine, the conditions are really difficult and demanding, with high temperatures and really long driving sections. It’s a two-week event. The Motul lubricants we’re using in the engine are Motul 300V 15W50 and Motul Gear Competition 75W140 for the gearbox. We’re only planning to change the lubricants once. The main difference between our car and the 1982 one was the gearbox. We decided to move from a four-speed manual to a five-speed because it will protect the engine more. There are also a lot of road sections, and adding five gears means we can preserve the engine as it will keep the revs down.

Reliability

Communications

We can have three devices on top of the one they are providing. We have a GPS device “Tripy” that shares our location every second with the organizer and contains theelectronic road book giving us the navigation information. We will also have an electronic compass and another one for the regularity sections, which will allow us to measure our average speed accurately over the timed stages.

Communications

Tyres

We selected  Hankook tyres.We also increased a bit the dimension of the wheels so the one we’ve got is bigger than it was in period because the original size is not available anymore. At the same time, these bigger tyres will give us a bit more comfort, especially over the rocks. We have a compressor in the boot, which is plugged into the battery and will allow us to easily inflate the tyres. We will also buy some small devices that we plug into each wheel valves. That means when we get to the dunes, instead of losing 5 minutes to drop the pressure, we can press a button and each valves and continue driving while the car’s tyres deflate, so we will save time.

© Picture credits: Mathieu Bonnevie for Classic Driver © 2020 

Follow Romain’s Dakar journey on Instagram

Tyres