June 19, 2018, 12:26 am
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A taste of truck rallying in Russia

It was in the TV coverage of Paris-Dakar World Rally Championships that I used to see big trucks racing in the desert or off-road. Little did I know that I would have a chance to ride in two of actual rally trucks in a recent visit to Russia courtesy of Gaz Automotive Group and Eastern Petroleum Corporation. Truck rallying is the fourth type of racing in the famed event, after motorcycles, the quads and cars that range from buggies and SUVs.

It was on our second day in Russia when we proceeded tothe Gaz Group’s Probing Grounds in Nizhny Novgorod where the company’s largest assembly plant is also located. The test ground has long concrete test tracks for the regular production models and also an off-road track to test their trucks in extreme off-road conditions.

But to the surprise of some 14 journalists from Spain, Madagascar, France and the Philippines, three Gaz rally trucks were also made available for test rides driven by their professional rally drivers.

The Ural Next six-wheeler truck and two Gazelle Next light trucks. The vehicles complete with rally tires and safety accessories are designed for cross-country capacity and have excellent off-road qualities, as well as high level of ergonomics and comfort.

I first mounted on the big Ural truck at the rear seat while two other participants occupied the front seats with the driver. I put on my lap belt but I could feel the bounces as we negotiated the uneven terrain. But when we went on a straight still on the sandy track, the driver put on more speed. It was like one of the scenes from the World Rally videos. 

I occupied the front seat with its 4-point seat belt in the next round and I recalled the times we were doing a rally using an AUV in Subic years ago. But this one is huge and when we go on a downhill, I could not see what’s in front and on uphill, it was only the sky that showed. The Ural Next is a new generation heavy truck that has an all-wheel drive and is designed for long cross country drives.

The Gazelle Next is from the Gaz Group’s line of light commercial vehicles but the rally version as a lot of modifications like the big 600-liter gas tank installed at the truck bed and big rally tires, to mention a few. The ride here is less bouncy and the driver could attack the track challenges faster and with more ease.

Gaz Group joined the truck rally competitions quite recently. Two of which  are the Silk Way 2017 Rally and the 2017 Blue Corridor Rally: Iberia to Baltiya. The company has also joined truck rallies that use Compressed Natural Gas in Europe and in Russia.

I had a chance to drive a Gazelle Next dropside pickup on the asphalted tracks complete with embanked portions and it was also a thrill especially doing it under moderate to heavy rains. But riding a rally truck for the first time was simply exhilarating.

Who knows Gaz Group might join the Dakar rallies in the future and this time I can relate when I see the rally trucks on TV.
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