Regardless of whether Dakar runs in the Middle East, South America or back in its native Africa, there’s a mountain that remains to be conquered.
Right now, nobody’s really even reached base camp, let alone laid out plans for an ascent.
Dakar’s mountain is, of course, a sustainable, post-fossil fuel solution. With competitive days running to 500 or more miles, it’s not hard to see why the prospect of running an electric or hydrogen-fuelled car on the world’s most arduous motorsport event has been about as appealing as running up Everest in cycling shorts and a t-shirt, with only a Mars bar and a can of Tizer for sustenance.
Guerlain Chicherit knows about mountains. He lives in the them. He jumps off them. And, given half a chance, he jumps over them.
And it’s the former free-skiing world champion’s love of his native French Alps that has helped drive him towards finding a sustainable solution to off-road motorsport. Don’t forget, he does that as well.
Most recently, he’s been a regular in the World Rallycross Championship, but 11 years ago he lifted the FIA Cross-Country World Cup. And he’s won stages on Dakar.
Now he’s looking to change the game.
Through his own GCK Motorsport team, Chicherit is embarking on a three-year plan to deliver a hydrogen-fuelled car to the start line of Dakar 2024.
In preparation for that moment, he’s building an all-electric off-road racer to be used on selected events next season. That car – the interestingly named GCK e-Blast 1 – will be shown and run for the first time at Dakar in January.
It won’t compete in Saudi Arabia, but it’s quite likely to steal the show.
GCK e-Blast 1 is an evolution of Peugeot’s 3008 DKR. The three-liter, V6 diesel motor has been whipped out and replaced by batteries producing 150kW. The car’s output of 340 horsepower is similar to what the previous oil-burning lump managed. But Chicherit’s silent solution monsters the diesel motor in terms of torque, producing 1,000NM instead of the 800 offered by the car that won Dakar in 2018.
But the electric GCK e-Blast 1 is essentially a test bed for GCK Motorsport and sister companies GCK Technology and GCK Energy to learn about working a sustainable solution into a dependable chassis, then firing it through the sand.
A year from now, the finishing touches will be being put to the hydrogen-powered car which will be shown at Dakar, 2022. Testing commences later that year, with an active demonstration of the hydrogen car at Dakar in 2023 before the start of something big in January 2024.
Chicherit’s plan is for GCK Motorsport to run a pair of cars on the ’24 event, but it will also make the solution commercially available to other teams.
Chicherit said: “I’ve been working on bringing together my passions for motorsport and technology with my vision for a sustainable future.
“Living in the Alps is a daily reminder of the steps we need to take to develop cutting-edge technology and use our existing motorsport projects as a platform to drive a sustainable transformation.
“I’m super-excited to have brought together forward-thinking specialists in their fields to produce ground-breaking work that will make a difference. I can’t wait to see our first phase brought to life at a race that means so much to me, the Dakar rally.”
Eric Boudot is CEO of Green Corp Konnection – the umbrella company under which GCK Motorsport sits – and he’s understandably excited about the impact his team are about to have on the future of off-road racing.
“[This is] The first step in what we believe to be the future of long-distance cross-country racing, hydrogen-powered vehicles. Our aim is to create an environmentally friendly rally car, powered only by green energy, that will be able to go the distance.
“Our investment into hydrogen technology will enable us to race the first hydrogen-powered car in Dakar in 2023 – 2024.”
January represents base camp for Chicherit and his team. As any mountaineer will tell you, the success of a first ascent depend almost entirely on pioneering preparation. And that’s exactly where GCK is right now.