Tackling an off-road trail that includes sandy sections and even dunes demands a unique skill set and knowledge to ensure a smooth and safe experience. (And to make sure you don’t get bogged down).
Whether you’re a seasoned off-road enthusiast or a newcomer eager to explore the thrill of sand driving, understanding the nuances of handling a vehicle on sand is essential.
We quizzed Stellenbosch-based rally driver, Puck Klaassen, who is currently tackling the Dakar Classic with her dad for a few tips. Puck has not only grown as a person over the first two weeks of the Dakar but matured massively as a driver. You might not be about to tackle the dunes of Saudi Arabia, but you can definitely learn from her.
Some Background On The Dakar Classic
Puck is racing in Saudi Arabia alongside her dad, Sebastiaan, who acts as her navigator. For both the 21-year-old and her father, it has been quite a journey – even just getting to the start line. The allure of rally racing first captivated Puck during her youthful days of go-karting. Her fascination was reignited during a serendipitous trip to Switzerland where she was introduced to the world of Dakar Rally through a friend. Since then, their journey towards participating in the 2024 Dakar Classic began and eventually led them to acquire a 1986 Porsche 911 3.2L 2WD rear-wheel drive – an iconic vehicle associated with the Dakar Classic.
For Puck, originally from the Netherlands but currently residing outside Stellenbosch, the shift from two wheels to four has been transformative. “Moving towards four wheels has been amazing,” she said. “I always knew it would be cool, but honestly, it’s been the most enjoyable and rewarding sport I’ve ever pursued.”
The Dakar Classic, launched in 2021, features vehicles from the 1980s and 1990s. The format is limited to around 100 crews, all thrilled to share their passion for historic vehicles and their restoration. Replicas of René Metge’s and Jacky Ickx’s Porsche 911s, Ari Vatanen’s 205 Peugeot, and Jan De Rooy’s double-cab DAF truck all enjoy a new lease on life on the Dakar Classic. The prologue and first stage were significant milestones for Puck as she embarked on her maiden voyage into the world of rally racing. “Being in the car for such a long time is taking its toll on me,” she shared, exhausted yet exhilarated after completing the challenging leg. Navigating through rough and rocky terrains required careful maneuvering and precise handling. Then came the dunes… Here is what she’s learned so far:
Prioritise Momentum over Speed For Sand Driving
Puck reflects on her focus on speed admitting, “At first all I cared about was going fast. However, I’ve come to realize that maintaining a steady pace is absolutely vital for sand driving.” This realization forms the foundation for sand driving highlighting the importance of composure rather than solely relying on speed and the power of the car. Keeping a consistent speed helps your vehicle glide smoothly over the sand, preventing it from getting stuck. Avoid sudden acceleration or deceleration, as these actions may lead to sinking in the soft sand. Puck’s wisdom extends to the significance of momentum and a smooth driving style. She shares, “the key is to maintain continuous, uninterrupted movement without frequent stops. On days when I avoid getting stuck, it’s because I keep the momentum going, rather than alternating between fast and slow.”
Assess Challenges and Maintain Flow When Sand Driving
Drawing from her experiences in the 1986 Porsche 911 3.2L 2WD rear-wheel drive, the 21-year-old notes, “On Stage 8, I encountered challenges and got stuck twice when I didn’t maintain good flow. During those instances, I had to pause, assess the situation, and then proceed.” This highlights the necessity of adaptability and a proactive approach when faced with unexpected obstacles when sand driving.
Throttle Control on Dunes
Puck’s insights extend to throttle control on dunes. “One crucial lesson is not to release the throttle at the top of a dune because the vehicle’s momentum continues. So, the main takeaway is to keep the gas on.” This simple yet vital tip can make all the difference in navigating challenging sandy terrains. In addition, selecting the right gear ahead of an obstacle is crucial. Opt for a higher gear to prevent wheel spin when it comes to soft sand. This provides better control and prevents unnecessary strain on the engine. Run dunes in four-wheel high range, if your vehicle is equipped with this feature, distributing power to all wheels and enhancing traction without the ‘low’ torque of low range.
Approach Drops with Caution
Sharing a hard-learned lesson, Puck advises, “It’s essential to approach drops cautiously, as their length and steepness may be unpredictable. I learned this the hard way on the first day when I went too fast downhill.” When it comes to descending a dune, choose a controlled speed to prevent your vehicle from bouncing uncontrollably down the slope. Engage a lower gear if necessary and use engine braking to maintain control.
There you go, Puck Klaassen’s valuable lessons encapsulate the essence of successful sand driving: Stay calm, maintain momentum, and approaching challenging drops with caution. Follow Puck Klaassen’s Dakar Classic journey, here.