Minelli, passion to the nth degree
January 17 th 2020 - 06:09 [GMT + 3]
Flying under the radar in the general classification, in which he is sitting in 20th place along with his driver, Claudio Bellina, Italian Giulio Minelli goes unnoticed by most of his fellow Dakar competitors. They have no idea that he is the oldest Dakar winner still in the field: he was the co-driver of the Mercedes Unimog that won the truck race with Giacomo Vismara in 1986. Time for a trip down memory lane…
Old habits die hard. After truck no. 518 is done for the day, Claudio Bellina, Giulio Minelli and Bruno Gotti sit down at the table around a pot of pasta to review the day before shooting the breeze like they like to do in one of their Lombard canteens in Bergamo. It is a habit that Giulio picked up over 35 years ago, when he made his Dakar debut with Giacomo Vismara in 1984. However, his most vivid memory dates back to 1986, when the two friends emerged victorious from the truck race: "I remember very clearly, we made the difference in Mauritania", he reminisces mischievously. "Our rivals got stuck in front of a dry lake bed in Mauritania, but we slipped away and distanced them for good. That Dakar has been my toughest one so far. Barely 20% of the field [100 out of 486 vehicles] managed to finish the rally and we often got lost because we used a compass to navigate. We only got GPS in the mid-1990s." No matter how hard that edition or how late they reached the bivouacs in Africa, Giacomo and Giulio, then in their prime, started their night shift after sunset: "We provided support for the Italian factory Honda bikers, Orioli, Balestrieri and De Petri, so we used to maintain and repair their bikes at the end of each stage".
Racing and living conditions in the bivouac have since changed a lot for both the crews in general and Giulio specifically. While he has not won much since his career with Vismara ended, he is now racing in his 25th Dakar with the same burning desire to experience the adventure. He spends the rest of the year toiling away on all sorts of motorbikes in his garage in Bergamo. However, January is always blocked out on his calendar for a breather that transports him in space and time: "Everything has changed, but I still love it. I think that as soon as I did the Dakar once, I caught the bug for the rest of my life."