The turn of the 21st century ushered in an era of Russian domination in the truck category.
Ever since Vladimir Chagin tasted his first victory at the feet of the pyramids in Cairo in 2000, Kamaz's victorious streak has only been interrupted three times: 2007, 2012 and 2016.
The Tsar called it a day after beating Karel Loprais's record with a seventh triumph, but the handover went without a hitch for the Russian team. His direct heir, defending champion Eduard Nikolaev, claimed his maiden win in 2013 before even turning 30, just like teammate Ayrat Mardeev in 2015.
This time around, the Dakar champions will be escorted by another rising star, Dmitry Sotnikov, who laid his talent bare for all to see with a second place overall last year.
It has been clear for a long time that the trucks from Tatarstan are the cream of the crop… and that Naberezhnye Chelny, where all three Russian drivers in this year's Dakar were born, keeps churning out truck-driving prodigies! However, many rivals will try to block their path to a 15th title.
Team De Rooy's Iveco trucks remain the only ones to have broken the Russian streak in South America and will again be their toughest competitors.
After a spectacular transition to the truck category, Federico Villagra (third in 2016 and fourth in 2017) is now a legitimate pretender to the crown, especially now that he will be leading the Dutch team and the Argentinian delegation, which is more than ready to fête him on the podium set up in his home town of Córdoba on 20 January.
However, anyone keeping a close eye on the category has also seen the rest of the field inch closer to the Kamaz and Iveco trucks. The Czech Republic's Aleš Loprais and Martin Kolomý, both driving Tatra trucks albeit in different teams, pose a credible outside threat.
Meanwhile, neither Martin van den Brink in Renault (fourth in 2015 and two stage wins in 2017) nor Belarusian Aleksandr Vasilevski in MAZ-SPORTAuto (sixth in 2017) have gone unnoticed as they rise through the ranks. They will be in the mix for a podium spot… at the very least.
Among the amateur crews, Richard de Groot's troop is unlikely to pile the pressure on Kamaz, but it will clearly be a hit with the fans.
His big red truck is wholly manned by firefighters who get the celebrity treatment from their South American peers at every stop.
Marc Leeuw, racing in the rally for the first time since 2012, will bolster the Dutch contingent, again the largest in the category.
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