A record number of Lithuanian crews began their journey in Dakar 2020 in Saudi Arabia on January 5. The five car crews and one motorcyclist brought home a mixed bag of results that included a stage win and a rally-ending fire.
Vaidotas Žala and his co-driver, Saulius Jurgelėnas, stunned fans when they became the first Lithuanians to finish a stage in the first place. But following the stunning performance in the opening Jeddah to Al Wajh stage, Žala – meaning ‘damage’ in Lithuanian – repeatedly suffered damages to his car. After one particularly heavy hit just 40 kilometres from the finishing line, the team ended up 26th.
“The plan next year is to win one stage and then go home,” Žala joked with reporters back in Vilnius. “We were dealt a good hand, but then it [changed], but that’s Dakar.” “We came back in good spirits, we’re happy that the cars are unharmed [and] without having suffered big losses. There were plenty of adventures,” he added.
The highest scoring Lithuanian this year was Benediktas Vanagas, who together with his co-driver Filipe Palmeiro finished 15th. In his eighth Dakar rally, Vanagas had his second-best career performance following the 11th placed he snatched in Dakar 2019.
“Dakar is tricky right until the end, but it’s nice to be at the finish [line]. Now we want to give everything back, drive past the podium, and go home,” Vanagas told iGo2Dakar right after the finish.
Meanwhile Antanas Juknevičius, Lithuania’s Dakar legend with 11 appearences in total, finished 20th.
“One more medal, but there are stil [empty] spots left on the car,” he said after finishing his 11th Dakar rally.
Gintas Petrus and Tomas Jančys finished 40th. They maintained a steady course throughout the rally and avoided any major accidents. Their best stage finish was in the 7th stage where they came 38th.
Dakar newcomers from Lithuania, Edvinas Juškauskas and Aisvydas Paliukėnas, had to finish their rally early when their car cought fire during a day off. Their mechanics managed to repair the vehicle, but it later overturned and could not be repaired. They vowed to return next year.
Arūnas Gelažninkas suffered a heavy fall from his motorcycle and finished 30th.
“I have never flown so far before. I can’t remember why I fell, but [I woke up] 40 metres from the motorcycle. If it weren’t for the neck protection, I would have snapped it,” Gelažninkas told iGo2Dakar.