Discover the stories of the Dakar's heroes Inside the Bivouac

In the Van Loon saga, every end is a new beginning

Dakar 2023 | Stage 13 | SHAYBAH > AL-HOFUF
January 14 th 2023 - 16:44 [GMT + 3]

In the Van Loon family, Erik has decided to take his final bow in the Dakar after his thirteenth participation, but he will be back to follow the exploits of his wife, Anja, who hopes to enter the next edition in a truck after racing in the T3 category this time round.

© Duda Bairros

Family stories are a dime a dozen in the Dakar. One is playing out in the 2023 edition, specifically in the Dutch clan, where Erik van Loon bid farewell to the race as his wife, Anja, made her Dakar debut in an SSV. While the businessman, fourth in 2015, rolled out of the rally in stage 7, she has completed the first thirteen stages without a hitch and is going into the finale in fourteenth place overall. Anja is surprisingly at ease on the tracks and dunes, but it has to do with the fact that she was raised in the Netherlands, in a family that lives and breathes the Dakar, and was fully exposed to the joys of off-road truck racing throughout her childhood: "I grew up in this atmosphere and it has always been my passion", she explains. "What's more, I got my truck licence as soon as I turned 18." In the Van de Laar family, Fried set the example and then took his two sons, Jan and Ben, to the rally in South America in the mid-2010s.

Of course, having her two brothers as a model only stoked Anja's deep desire to be part of this family project: "When Erik asked me one day what was on my bucket list, I told him I wanted to do the Dakar in a truck. He said I had to start by doing the Dakar in an SSV to learn the ropes, so I've done 10 rallies this year and will be switching to a truck afterwards. So far, so good, I'm loving it." Anja seems to be on the right track and learning at the right pace. After four editions of the Dakar in the service crews with her brothers, the prospect of a baptism in trucks appears closer and closer. Erik, who is happy to take on a new role as a recreational vehicle driver from next year, has dotted all the Is and crossed all the Ts: "If you look at her SSV, it's like new after 12 particularly difficult stages, and she's only had three punctures. She hasn't broken anything or got stuck, I'm mighty proud of her". Of course, he looks at her through rose-tinted glasses, but Anja already has a 2024 Dakar slot with her name on it in the prestigious De Rooy outfit: "Anja will drive an Iveco with three women on board. The co-driver and mechanic have already been chosen. The mechanic is a Dutch woman who works a truck specialist in her everyday life. Anja's great strength is that she has a natural talent for speed, she didn't need to work to acquire it, and now she's making leaps and bounds." With this unprecedented 100% female trio in the cockpit, Anja van Loon is already guaranteed to write a new chapter in the history of the category. Now it remains to be seen whether her results will also make a splash.

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