With the deadline to apply for the 2023 Dakar Rally only a month away, Russian and Belarusian teams are faced with either condemning the former country’s invasion of Ukraine, in compliance with FIA policy, or sitting out the race entirely. In a very unsurprising move, KAMAZ-master announced Wednesday that they have refused to sign the FIA’s documentation, which entailed prohibiting Russo-Belarusian competitors from displaying their nation’s flags and standing in solidarity with Ukraine.
With the nineteen-time Truck category winners out of the picture, the class will be won by a team besides KAMAZ for the first time since IVECO in 2016.
Parent company KAMAZ is partly owned by the Russian government via state-run defence conglomerate Rostec and builds vehicles for the Russian military like personnel transporters, MRAPs, and armoured cargo trucks. Such vehicles have seen heavy action in Ukraine, with many also being captured by Ukrainian forces for their own use. The manufacturer became subject to sanctions just two days after the invasion began while Daimler suspended its partnership with KAMAZ; by June, the company’s exports had tanked from a lack of foreign investment to the point where domestic sales had to be boosted.
The penalties also impacted KAMAZ-master, who had to sell off some of their race-winning trucks and begin developing parts in their hometown of Naberezhnye Chelny. Outside backers like Red Bull withdrew their aid and was replaced by state-owned oil company PJSC Gazprom; while Gazprom has also been sanctioned by the West, Europe’s heavy dependence on its products have triggered a gas crisis throughout the continent.
While KAMAZ has continued racing in the Russian Rally-Raid Championship, drivers Dmitry Sotnikov and Eduard Nikolaev stated in July the team would continue with their programme as if Dakar was still on their schedule. In early September, team owner Vladimir Chagin said he was negotiating with the Amaury Sport Organisation to let them take part, though Wednesday’s announcement gives the obvious indicator that such talks had fallen through.
“The participation of Russian athletes at the rally Dakar is conditioned by the necessity of signing the Driver Commitment of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), which condemns the Russian special operation in Ukraine,” reads a team statement. “In our opinion, the content of this document is political and also violates the principles of equal conditions for athletes. We consider it impossible for us to sign such documents and participate in competitions under such conditions.
“Our choice is clear – we are always with our homeland, especially when it is in a difficult situation.”
Many Russian entities not involved with Russia’s so-called “special military operation” have declared they would not sign the FIA’s documents and therefore sit out the 2023 Dakar Rally, including Bike rider Anastasiya Nifontova and SSV driver Sergei Kariakin. Conversely, Konstantin Zhiltsov and Denis Krotov have agreed to the terms and the former will compete under an Israeli licence. Such a divide expands beyond rally raid, with Formula 3 racer Alexander Smolyar and F1 test driver Robert Schwartzman respectively continuing their careers using FIA and Israeli flags while Smolyar’s team SMP Racing and World Endurance Championship outfit G-Drive Racing withdrew from their series. Kariakin’s team-mate Nikita Mazepin lost his F1 ride following the invasion, has been sanctioned alongside his Vladimir Putin-friendly oligarch father, and refuses to sign.
Fellow Truck team MAZ-SPORTauto is also expected to skip the Dakar Rally as it is owned by the Belarusian state and had been blocked from travelling to the 2022 edition due to sanctions. MAZ head Sergey Vyazovich commented in mid-September there is a “99.9% chance” that the team does not make it to the 2023 race.
KAMAZ-master’s announcement comes one week after an increased mobilisation of the Russian populace was declared. It has been 217 days since the invasion was declared.