The country with three million fans of the Dakar
Dakar 2023 |
Stage 6 |
January 6 th 2023 - 14:54 [GMT + 3]
Lithuania has been captivated by the Dakar, recently due to the performances of young Rokas Baciuška, but also since 2002 due to the adventures of Gintas Petrus, one of the pionners of the movement. The businessman from Vilnius details his twenty years on the Dakar.
Gintas Petrus is a slice of history in himself and even a history book when it comes to the Lithuanians' journey on the Dakar. In 2002, he took part in his first Dakar at a time when only one of his countrymen had done so before, two years previously when the rally was in Africa. For his debut, Gintas has experienced every imaginable twist and turn in the race, which he remembers fondly: “We didn’t have any assistance, we were just two guys with a Toyota that we had won on the “Toyota Trophy” and a kit of spare parts. Heaven only knows how we managed to finish! I remember we spent entire nights driving or sleeping in the dunes in Mauritania. We had to fight every day, it was really tough”. Gintas' ordeal, which ended in 51st and penultimate position on the shores of the Lac Rose, clearly inspired many Lithuanians.
The small Baltic country with only three million inhabitants has one of the most flattering ratios of entries on the Dakar, with seven vehicles entered this year, and often very honourable results that have won over an impressive number of supporters. As a pioneer, Petrus has also been a privileged witness of this development: “It’s just become crazy. We are a country whose main sport is basketball. We aren’t very good at football, very good at basketball, but in January for the Dakar, it becomes the number 1. sport. Everybody watches it and sends me advice on how to drive. Everyone is a Dakar specialist”.
While Gintas Petrus obtained his best result in 2021 with 36th place in the final general rankings, his countrymen Benediktas Vanagas and Vaidotas Žala climbed up to the gateway to the top 10, respectively 11th in 2019 and 2020, with a stage victory to boot for Žala. The rise of the Lithuanian clan was confirmed with the emergence of the very young Rokas Baciuška who climbed onto the podium of the T4 category last year and is fighting for the victory this year: “I was on the Dakar when Žala won and I was so proud. Now we have our own supporters who travel to see us and sometimes on certain stages we can see huge flags the size of a truck. Now Rokas is here to carry on the story and I hope there will be others. It’s a great to see them emerging. For them, I’m a bit of an old fogey. But when I see Jean-Pierre Strugo, who is taking part here at the age of 76 years, I find that he is a good example to follow for me”.