For fans in Northern Ireland following the Dakar Rally, the action can seem, well, a little distant. In fact, well over 4,200 miles separate this corner of the planet with host country Saudi Arabia.
The Dakar’s coverage has been superb but nothing quite beats being there, experiencing the sights and sounds first hand. Just ask Northern Ireland’s James Lecky, who is in the oil-rich Kingdom with Prodrive.
The 33-year-old is part of the British squad’s 60-strong crew responsible for running and servicing the significantly overhauled Bahrain Raid Xtreme Prodrive Hunter cars for Argentinian Orlando Terranova, double Dakar champion Nani Roma and nine-time World Rally winner Sebastien Loeb. Much of the media attention in the build-up to this month’s event — which reaches its climax tomorrow after 5,252 road and stage miles — has centred around the beating heart of the Hunter Mk2.
Powered by a 3.5-litre V6 turbocharged engine, it has been heavily reworked to accept sustainable fuels since it debuted last January. Much of the test and development work happened in the first six months of 2021 and involved Lecky, who joined Prodrive straight out of university 10 years ago.
Barring the inevitable punctures, and a €10,000 fine that was meted out to Loeb on Monday after he lost his spare wheel on a section between stages, the Frenchman currently sits second overall after stage 10 of 12. The gap to him and the Toyota Hilux of leader Nasser Al-Attiyah is almost 33 minutes.
“The Hunter’s performance is a great step since last year — we can certainly still fight for the win,” said Lecky. “There’s many factors to being successful here, let’s hope it all comes together.
“The engine was very reliable last year and, so far, has been on the new fuel, but getting to the start of the rally has not been easy. As a team we have been flat out preparing for this with engine testing and car building back in Banbury to testing in the United Arab Emirates.”
If there are any tell-tale signs problems might be on the horizon with the engine, it’s Lecky’s job to identify these and if curable work with others in the team to prescribe the best course of action.
“The engine cannot be changed in Dakar and must therefore be 100% reliable,” said Lecky. “It’s a very tough environment but the engine’s been designed to cope with this.
“During the event, it is simply a case of monitoring engine and drivetrain data closely to catch potential dramas early.
“Daily fuel calculation is another challenge.
“I’m responsible for data analysis and vehicle calibrations across our three cars. We get a lot of data from the car at the end of each day and this is key to ensuring their reliability.
“Lots of system analysis and small calibration updates need to be made based on driver feedback and conditions.”