On 1 November 2019 Parklane Hotel in Limassol hosted the official press conference of «Autolife Team: Starikoivich-Heskes», a Cypriot cross-country rally squad, ahead of The Dakar 2020.
WHAT IS THE DAKAR?
“In my opinion The Dakar is the biggest challenge any man or woman in the world can face in our time of relative peace”
The Dakar Rally was first held in 1978 and since then has been conducted annually (except for 2008 when the race was cancelled due to political instability in Mauritania). Today the Dakar Rally has become the most prestigious cross-country rally raid in the world and the most important event on motorsport calendar on par with Formula 1. At first the African continent was an integral attribute of the rally (the first edition’s root took the competitors from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal hence its early name Paris-Dakar), but from 2009 to 2019 the race was hosted by South American countries. The third chapter in the adventurous story of the Dakar Rally is being written before our own eyes as from 2020 the competition is moving to Saudi Arabia.
BRIEF STORY OF THE TEAM
“You have to be careful with your dreams for they have a tendency to materialise”
The seeds that will give birth to «Autolife Team» were planted back in 2015 by Mr. Roman Starikovich, a Cypriot businessman of Russian origin who is the acting proprietor and chief executive officer of «Orpheus Group». After having performed numerous off-road expeditions to Africa and Australia and inspired by the meeting with Nasser-Al-Attiyah (the celebrated Qatari sportsman, cross-country racer, 3 time Dakar winner and Olympic shooter) who had come to Cyprus to partake in the ISSF World Cup, Starikovich decided to pursue his long-time dream to become a professional rally driver and take on the legendary Dakar.
What followed was a thorough two-year preparation during which Starikovich purchased his first cross-country rally vehicle «Dessert Warrior» from the British custom automotive bureau «Rally Raid», had extensive training in Morocco with Annie Seel (one of the most famous female Dakar racers) and met Seel’s Dutch co-pilot Bert Heskes who agreed to join «Autolife Team» in 2016, thus establishing the core of the existing crew. Further training included participating in Cyprus Rally Championship held under the auspices of CAA (Cyprus Automobile Association) and in the international Hungarian Baja in 2016 (17th overall)
Subsequently in January 2017 Starikovich would become the first person in history to successfully partake in the biggest motorsport competition on the planet while bearing the flag of our island. On a blistering summer night in Buenos Aires, standing on a podium among tens of thousands of spectators and blinded by cameras Roman and his team knew that the dream turned out to be more real than even in their wildest aspirations. In the words of Roman’s loyal co-pilot and best friend Bert Heskes:
“I tried to imagine what it would feel like arriving at the finish podium. But my dreams fell short of reality. Achieving a goal like this, after a year of preparations and two weeks of endurance is more fulfilling than I ever imagined”
Hence, the team completed a 10,000-kilometre journey from Asuncion, Paraguay to Buenos Aires, Argentina in 15 days finishing on the 45th position in the car category, an astounding result for a beginner, especially given the fact that on average 40% to 60% of the racers are not even able to make it to the finish line.
Then was The Dakar 2017. After returning home the team had numerous recognition awards bestowed upon them by the Government of Cyprus and various sporting organizations with the now legendary «Dessert Warrior» donated to Cyprus Motor Museum in Limassol. Within the period of 2017-2019 the team took a professional break from racing gathering strength and resources in order to fulfill the future ambitious projects.
At the press-conference held this November it was officially announced that «Autolife Team: Starikovich-Heskes» is back on track and setting to compete in The Dakar 2020 with a new more powerful racing car, slightly reshuffled international team backing the piloting duo and undoubtedly greater experience and expertise.
«Dream! Dare! Live it!» – those were the greeting words of Roman Starikovich’s (which happen to be the official slogan of the Dakar Rally this year) directed to the audience of journalists and VIP guests who had gathered in the Diamond Ballroom at Parklane Hotel on November 1. «Cyprus has been to the Dakar once and we are ready to walk this path again» – summarized the pilot. Antonis Michaelides (president of CAA) and Maria Papadopoulou (Limassol Municipality Sports Office Manager) also delivered the opening speeches.
What does the team have in store for their fans and Cypriot motorsport lovers this time?
First of all it is a much more powerful racing car (compared to the «Dessert Warrior») Toyota Hilux Overdrive created by the Belgian-based construction bureau using the chassis and the body of the famous Japanese pick-up. This vehicle has already been tested by the team at the Arhimandrita Rally in Paphos (1st place in T1 category) and at the international Rally Greece Off-Road in Kastoria, West Macedonia (3rd place in T1 category). High levels of stability and resistance demonstrated by Toyota Hilux Overdrive coupled with its technical characteristics (360 hp, V8 5.0 litre engine) will undoubtedly increase the team’s competitiveness at the upcoming Dakar.
This particular car was dubbed «The Bumblebeast» by the team for its eye-catching black and yellow livery. At the end of the official part of the press-conference the vehicle was suspended from the ceiling on a special lift, covered in velvet and ceremonially unveiled before the public.
Secondly, its an updated line up of the team featuring 14 international members from Cyprus, The Netherlands, Russian Federation, Germany, Belarus, Latvia, Argentina, Greece and Poland. The biggest personnel changes took place in the technical department, now headed by the team’s new chief engineer, Roman Tsurkan. Tsurkan is a battle-hardened mechanic who managed to get first-hand experience working at the largest and most prestigious international rallies including Dakar and Silk Way among many other significant motorsport competitions.
All in all, «Autolife Team: Starikovich-Heskes seems ready for their second Dakar. What lies ahead is a longsome 12-day, 9,000 kilometer rally raid through desert dunes and mountain passes from Jeddah to Al-Qiddiya.
How will the Cypriot team perform this time? We will have the answer to this question next January when a thousand-year tranquility of the mysterious Arabian Desert will be disturbed by the bursting roar of hundreds of automotive engines.
The team would like to thank their platinum partners «Copybet», golden partners «Orpheus Luxury Travel and Tours» and «ReLux Estates», media partners «Heart Cyprus» and «Prime Tel» as well as their loyal fans, friends and supporters.
If you wish to learn more about the team we kindly invite you to visit their official website: www.dakar.team , follow them on Facebook: Autolife Dakar and Instagram: @Autolife_Dakar.