When an F1 team goes off road - Minardi's Dakar truck
The Dakar rally is without a doubt the most famous rally raid event in the world. Ever since its conception at the hands of Thierry Sabine at the end of 1978, its been home to countless of epic adventures and tall tales. Throughout the years more and more big budget teams started to sign up for the event. Thanks to the unforgiving nature of the race the plucky privateers still had a chance of winning compared to the overfunded automotive giants.
It's the privateers that usually come up with the craziest ideas. Thierry de Montcorgé's Rolls Royce and a duo of tiny Suzuki Samurais sponsored by a bank for example. This doesn't mean that big teams never tried anything out of the ordinary. Porsche's mad but successful 959 supercar driven by Jacky Ickx is the perfect example of this.
1986 saw yet another unusual entry as it was both an established big brand and a privateer at the same time. None other than Formula One's most infamous team: Minardi
Italian founder Giancarlo Minardi hails from a family deeply involved in motorsport. In 1985, after having a relatively successful F2 career, he decided to kick start a Formula One team. Because they were underfunded privateers in the advanced turbo era of F1 it meant the car was far from perfect. Their car, the M185, was woefully underpowered and failed to finish on multiple occasions.
While the F1 effort was off to a shaky start and making a name for itself in all the wrong ways, Minardi was looking for a potential entry in the 1986 edition of the Paris Dakar rally. It was to be a journey far outside Minardi's comfort zone. Especially considering the type of vehicle they chose. Instead of picking a car, the team opted to enter the highly competitive truck class.
Their approach to finding the right vehicle for the job was far from the ordinary either. Instead of heavily modifying a regular truck or acquiring a used race truck, they decided to go the opposite route by picking something that was already capable of going offroad from the get go. They found what they were looking for at Costruzione Veicoli Speciali or CVS.
Their FM2230 model was usually found fulfilling several roles in big industrial construction zones thanks to its adaptable platform. But nobody had ever thought of going racing with one. Nevertheless, the tough nature of the vehicle and its excellent ride height were deemed more than capable of handling the rough African terrain.
All four wheels, which were also steerable, were powered by a turbocharged Iveco 8 cylinder engine capable of producing 420 horsepower and an immense amount of torque. Top speed was good for 140 Km/h or 90 mph. Not bad for a 7.4 meter long behemoth weighing several tonnes.
The team tried to save as much weight as possible but some further modifications had to be done. An external roll cage together with several high beam lights were added at the front while at the back enough room was left to carry 4 spare wheels. Because the wheels were so big and heavy a small crane was also put on top of the truck to aid in any wheel changes in the middle of the desert.
To top it all of the CVS was given Minardi's signature yellow paint job and was dubbed "the Eurafrica truck". Aboard the yellow giant were navigator Adriano Antolini, co-driver Denis Biffi and driver Gaudenzio Mantova. The latter being a seasoned F2 and F3 driver. They would be tasked with driving a total distance of 15000 Kilometers, or 9320 Miles, across the African Continent.
Despite the lack of experience team Minardi found themselves comfortably in second place. Nothing seemed like it could stop the giant truck. It even got airborne over some dunes undoubtedly creating some minor earthquakes when it landed.
The 1986 edition proved to especially gruelling on the truck category as only 12 of the 75 entered trucks made the finish line in Dakar. Sadly, the Minardi Eurafrica truck was one of the unlucky ones. While barreling down a remote desert a small electrical problem caused major issues. A fire had started and no matter what the crew did, it couldn't be put out. In a couple of minutes the truck, together with the team's potential podium finish, went up in flames.
Dakar's first ever Formula One team entry saw a disappointing end. The unusual yet solid idea of turning an industrial truck into a desert racing weapon was something the Dakar had never seen before. Minardi's first off road racing effort was surprisingly looking to be vastly more successful than its F1 effort but in the end it wasn't meant to be.