My soul, my Daker

By Zhao Ran Source:Global Times Published: 2011-12-23 21:50:00

Great Wall’s Haval 6 racing car. Photo: Courtesy of Great Wall


Different from the speed of F1 racing, the world's most grueling race, the Dakar Rally, is regarded as a laborious trial that tests its competitors' driving skills, endurance and communication skills.

One of the earliest and most famous rally racers in China, Zhou Yong, will embark on his sixth Dakar Rally challenge beginning on January 1, 2012 which runs through Argentina, Chile and Peru. In his interview with and Global Times on December 16, Zhou seemed well fettled and looked younger than his age of 42.

Zhou finished his first Dakar journey in 2005 and placed 19th overall, while recording the best-ever result for a Chinese national.

"This year the difficulty is increasing, as the organization adds Peru as a new route, aiming to enable its competitors to discover new lands and another aspect of South America. For all the racers, it is fair that none of us know anything about the new route, the race is full of expectation every year," Zhou told to the Global Times.

Starting on January 1, 2012, Dakar Rally racers will have to drive more than 9,000 kilometers in total, from Argentina's Mar del Plata to Peru's capital city - Lima, on January 15.

Unlike previous year's loops, the route in 2012 will transport the rally from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to those of the Pacific. The scale of this challenge has also led to a change in the race's format, which will include 14 days of racing. Constantly guided by the Andes Mountain range, the competitors will be crossing the Atacama, and will experience in particular the diversity of the dunes as they head into Peru.

Passion for racing

Having started his professional racing career in 1995, Zhou has won many champions in domestic races. He can still remember the feeling he had when he first participated in Dakar. "I can still remember my first Dakar, just like a newborn baby entering the real world," Zhou recalled.

Zhou explained that long-term driving, the lack of water, the reaction to high altitude and more are all difficulties that racers must face in Dakar, but he forgets these troubles each time he finished.

"I gained experience," he said.

As a signed driver for Great Wall (a Chinese automobile company), Zhou will lead his "Haval SUV Loong Racing Team" to the Dakar for the third time in 2012.

 "Compared to the last two years, the most important thing is we improved our racing car Haval 6 (H6). The performance of the H6 this year will be remarkable. This has infused new blood into our team. We hired many skillful repair technicians who had worked for old European teams before, and they are very experienced," Zhou said.

However, asked about how he is getting on with his personal preparations for the upcoming Dakar, the veteran replied modestly.

"To be honest, I have never been satisfied with my preparations since I began competing in this race, but I always try my best. The Dakar is different every year. You never know what's going to happen in the next stage," Zhou explained.  

"This year, I have a partner, Carlos Sousa, a skillful European racer who has run the Dakar several times, and I have a new French co-driver."

During the half-month long competition, racers will have to coordinate well with the co-driver to complete the task, which does not leave room for any miscommunication.

"I recorded all my co-driver's instructions on my mp3 player and listen to them everyday during physical training. I force myself to become familiar with his voice so that we can communicate well during the real test. We communicate as much as we can, to guarantee better cooperation at the competition."

Zhou compares the Dakar competition to playing music. "My co-driver is the conductor, our road book is the notes, and I am the musician. Beautiful movement depends on our concerted effort and coordination," Zhou said with a kind smile. 


Zhou Yong in his car during practice. Photo: Courtesy of Great Wall
Zhou Yong in his car during practice. Photo: Courtesy of Great Wall

Learning from racing

Having participated in the Dakar Rally five times, Zhou still regards himself a novice, and he believes every year he can learn something new.

"I love taking part in the Dakar Rally, it is amazing. Every Dakar is a baptism for me. For a racer, the result is important, but not the most important. I have learned how to be more peaceful and steady during the rally," he said.

Zhou believes that the real test for a Dakar racer is learning how to cultivate his personality when faced with adversity.

However, he is not satisfied with the atmosphere of racing in China, even though China overtook the US as the world's largest auto market last January.

Zhou concludes that Chinese racers have their own advantage when competing in Dakar. They have thorough strategies when competing in the race, and are good at deploying them. Compared with foreign racers, they are much steadier.

"We have low-quality racing skills, and the development of auto sports is much slower here in China than in European countries. Without a comprehensive understanding of the Dakar Rally, Chinese racers won't mature enough to compete," Zhou said sincerely.

Currently, Zhou is not only a racer, but also a businessman. He is working on his private company, which he began in 1999, that trains professional racers for organizations. His firm also coordinates with domestic auto companies to train club members in proper driving posture.

"When thinking about what I should do beyond my 40s, I realize I have to devote all my skills to helping the public. Driving is becoming an essential part of our lives and I have a responsibility to teach people how to become qualified drivers," Zhou said.

"However, I will definitely drive in the Dakar Rally until the day I can not drive. " Indeed, hale and hearty Zhou can't wait to have a thrilling go once again in the Dakar Rally a few days from now.


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