Flying and drifting with Dakar team Astara! – VIDEO

November 25, 2022

In the background is the idling prattle of the 7.0-liter V8 engines of Astara’s three Dakar cars, a heavy and dark sound that makes an immediate impression. The butterfly door opens and the driver makes an inviting gesture toward the passenger seat. Getting in is not exactly easy because of the roll cage. First you sit on the wide sill, then you put your left leg on the floor and at the same time lower yourself into the racing seat. The biggest challenge next is to get your right leg on board as well. Fortunately, with some flexible bending, it is just about doable for yours truly.

Another team member fastened the seat belts and meanwhile driver Carlos Checa explained the car’s systems. The V8 is clearly audible behind us, like a roaring raging bull that can’t wait to be let loose. After his explanation, Checa relaxedly put into first gear and stepped fully on the gas pedal. The typical V8 hammer fills the interior and we blast away, heading for the first jump.

What is Astara?

Pause for a moment and time for some background. After all, the name Astara will by no means sound familiar to everyone. Still, the Spanish company is a pretty big name in the auto industry. In fact, Astara operates in 17 countries and rakes in annual sales of €5.5 billion. That money is made in part by providing data to automakers, as well as providing distribution for various brands. The company also does business in the Netherlands with Ssangyong and Isuzu. In Belgium, with brands like Suzuki and MG in its customer portfolio, Astara is a lot bigger.

Astara’s drivers and navigators

Synthetic fuel

Why is a company like Astara participating in the Dakar Rally? Actually mainly because the race is a nice challenge on several fronts, but of course also for a bit of publicity. This is not just about promoting the company itself, but Astara also wants to promote synthetic fuel as an environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline and diesel.

In fact, the “01 Concept,” as Astara’s car is called, will run the upcoming rally on 90 percent synthetic fuel. Last year, that share was 70 percent. That fuel is similar in composition to 102 octane, so the V8 hardly needed any modifications. By the way, the stuff is expensive: 6.50 euros per liter. This is due not only to the fuel’s relatively expensive production process, but also to transportation costs to Saudi Arabia. Then suddenly those Dutch fuel prices are not so bad….

The synthetic fuel for the 01 Concept

Century Racing and Astara

Astara does not build its Dakar cars itself. The team buys them from South African Century Racing, which also supplies the car for the Coronel brothers. Therefore, the 01 Concept, actually a Century Racing CR6, has also improved on last year’s car. With 450 hp, the V8 squeezes out more power, the car has become a bit lighter with an unladen weight of 1,590 kilograms, and from now on, three spare wheels can be carried instead of two. Handy in the rough terrain, where a flat tire is easily incurred.

Racing with Astara

Enough background, we are back in the passenger seat of the 01 Concept and heading for the first jump at breakneck speed. You feel the car fly and you brace yourself for a hard landing, but it doesn’t happen. Indeed, the 01 Concept’s massive shock absorbers cushion the blow perfectly. The word “comfortable” even comes up briefly.

Almost immediately after, Checa throws the car into a drift and we approach the next hill. He makes a relaxed impression, making it all look incredibly easy. But, of course, the car also does its bit. Not only the shock absorbers, but also the off-road tires make the rugged terrain of the INTA test site near Madrid feel almost like a snappy new asphalt road.

The car listens perfectly to Carlos’ commands and despite it being a rainy day and the track being quite muddy and slippery, the rear-wheel-drive car stays in line pretty well and the drifts are easy to hold. There’s really no time to think, as the hammering of the V8 drowns out everything in the car’s small interior. With outdoor temperatures that are wintery by Spanish standards (9 degrees Celsius), the interior is still nice and cool, but in the desert, you won’t want to sit here anymore….

Torture tour for Astara

While it was a fun experience for us to ride along for once, the rally itself is of course a little different. In fact, the team’s three cars will travel a route totaling 15,000 kilometers in Saudi Arabia. In the relentless heat of the desert, this is absolutely no joke.

Almost immediately after riding along, the cars were already being transported to Saudi Arabia. In fact, the rally will take place from December 31, 2022 to January 15, 2023. If you didn’t have a favorite Dakar team yet, especially cheer for Astara’s team!