Committed to finishing the grueling rally through teamwork. ― An interview with the mechanics immediately before the team’s real-world conditions summer testing ―
In this issue of the Dakar News, we spoke with the four dealer mechanics who were screened to join HINO TEAM SUGAWARA and the team’s mechanic sub-leader Yoichi Okabe. We asked them about how they felt going into the real-world condition summer test and their convictions for the Dakar Rally.
Back row from left to right: Mr. Yuki Takano (Hino Motors Gunma), Mr. Ryota Shibutani (Hino Motors Kobe), and Mr. Hiroki Kinoshita (Hino Motors Yokohama) Front row from left to right: Mr. Yoichi Okabe (Vehicle Planning & Production Engineering Div., Hino Motors), and Mr. Aiichiro Yamauchi (Hino Motors Toyama)
― First off, can you tell us about how you ended up applying to become a HINO TEAM SUGAWARA mechanic? Yamauchi: I used to work at Hino Motors Miyagi. One of my seniors there who trained me had been to the Dakar Rally, and I felt that I wanted to surpass this person. That is what motivated me to apply.
Mr. Ryota Shibutani (Hino Motors Kobe)
Shibutani: I learned of the Dakar Rally when I joined Hino Motors Kobe, and the desire to one day take on that challenge myself grew on me. Also, since no Hino Motors Kobe mechanic had been to the Dakar Rally in the past, I felt that I could open the gate for other mechanics who sought to take on the challenge. That’s the other reason I applied.
Kinoshita:I was in junior high school around the time that HINO500 Series trucks first entered the Dakar Rally, and I had been watching the rally on TV since around that time. The Dakar Rally was truly an event that I aspired to. Although the opportunity to make the Dakar Rally team was right in front of me when I joined Hino Motors Yokohama, I had given up at one point due to work and family circumstances. As I got older, the question of whether I really wanted to give up kept on getting stronger. The main reason for me was that I wanted to be part of the team at the Dakar Rally which I had dreamt of for many years, and I also wanted to be an inspiration to others.
Takano:My father is also a mechanic and he is a huge fan of off-road rallies. Thanks to his influence, I knew about the Dakar Rally and HINO500 Series trucks since I was quite young.Joining the Dakar Rally team eventually became a dream for both myself and my father, and I joined Hino Motors Gunma to make that dream a reality. From very early on, I let my superiors know that I wanted to make the Dakar Rally team. Ten years after joining the company, my requests were approved and I was able to apply.
― How did you feel when you were chosen for the team after the screening event in late May?
Mr. Yuki Takano (Hino Motors Gunma)
Takano: In terms of age, I’m still quite young, and I thought that I still had much to learn, so I was actually surprised that I was chosen. I was very happy that my dream had come true, but by the same token, the gravity of the task and my responsibilities as a member of the racing team is starting to sink in.
Kinoshita: I was just really happy. That was the first thing for me. But at the same time, I started to feel some anxiousness like, “Can I really do this?” I had mixed emotions of joy, anxiety, and excitement, so I wasn’t really sure what I was feeling (laughs).
Yamauchi:I was happy when I first learned that I made the team. At the same time, I was a bit anxious and questioned whether I was up to the task. That said, I was firm in my decision that I would give it my best now that I’d been chosen.
Shibutani: I’ve been dreaming of making the team all these years so I was truly very happy. When my branch manager called during work saying, “Congratulations! You made the team!” I was so happy to the point that I shed a tear (laughs).
― You all joined up with the team on June 5. How is the team doing? And how are things going with your servicing operations, as we know that the racing trucks are quite different from the trucks that you service in your day-to-day work? Shibutani: I feel that we will be able to create a top-notch team where all members have respects for each other. In terms of servicing, we need to use our imagination to keep in mind the harsh terrains that the trucks will be driving on in the Silk Way Rally, Rally Mongolia, and Dakar Rally, so there’s lots to learn everyday.
Yamauchi: We’re only two weeks into the project, and I’m hanging in there with the support of the other team members. The truck’s construction is a combination of non-production elements and elements that you would find in production trucks, so I feel that I need to focus my learning on these non-production aspects of the truck.
Mr. Hiroki Kinoshita (Hino Motors Yokohama)
Kinoshita: All dealer mechanics including myself are staying in a dorm now, essentially “eating out of the same rice pot,” so I think this is a great environment for building up our teamwork. I was a bit anxious since I was somewhat older than the other three mechanics, but I soon learned that my concerns were unfounded as they are all great people to hang out with. I’m absolutely certain that this team will deliver. In terms of servicing, there can be some confusion since the trucks are special vehicles that are different from what we work on at our dealers, so everyday is a learning process. I will be ingraining what I learned into my brain and body so that I will be able to offer reliable support during the race.
Takano: I am the youngest of the four, and I’m learning a lot from my senior mechanics. This has really been a great learning opportunity with Mr. Kinoshita teaching me about the construction of rally vehicles and how they behave, Mr. Yamauchi teaching me about the construction of electrical components and Mr. Shibutani teaching me about welding. I think our teamwork is great. In terms of servicing, I’ve been involved in servicing production vehicles at our dealer for ten years, and I know them well, but the rally trucks are different and are full of surprises for me. I now see the difficulty and joy of using my imagination to keep those things in mind as we build the truck.
― Right out of the starting gate, you will be taking part in two extreme rallies, the Silk Way Rally starting on July 8, and the Rally Mongolia starting on August 13. Can you give us a candid look at how you are feeling now?
Takano: I played basketball for six years in elementary and junior high school and since I’m also the youngest of the four, I think I can contribute in terms of physically demanding tasks. I don’t have racing experience, so to make up for that, I will do my best to support other members, and keep spirits high.
Kinoshita:There’s a lot that I’m anxious about, but I am also excited about treading into unknown territory. I can’t even imagine the conditions we will be facing, but since I’m a member of the team now, I am committed to give this my best effort. No complaining or whining.
Mr. Aiichiro Yamauchi (Hino Motors Toyama)
Yamauchi:There is only so much that I can do, but I will do my best to make sure that the team can make it into the leading group.
Shibutani: To be honest, I am quite anxious, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stomach the food or if I am really up to the task but having spent some time with the other three mechanics, I believe that we can support each other to overcome any challenge that may come our way. I am committed to taking on the challenge together and supporting each other so that we are able to finish in the leading group.
― Do you have any personal goals as a mechanic on the Dakar Rally 2018 team? Shibutani: I look forward to placing myself under harsh conditions and growing personally in doing so. I am committed to never giving up, stoically take on all challenges, and growing stronger mentally.
Yamauchi:I would like to grow as a person through this experience. Since there are tons of things that I have never experienced and I have been given an environment where I can learn from these experiences, I intend to learn all I can from the knowledge and skills of the other mechanics, and other team members including the people from JRM※. And I hope to grow as a person in doing so. ※JRM: Japan Racing Management
Kinoshita:I look forward to this challenge to find out how much I can do under extreme conditions, and what I have to contribute with the skills that I have learned over the years. My goal is to never give up throughout the year, and give the best that I can. I also want to show my family how I am taking on this challenge. My kids are involved in sports―my 8th grade daughter plays volleyball and 4th grade son does karate―so I hope that I can be an inspiration to them by showing them how I am doing my best and never giving up in this endeavor, and that this inspiration will help support them in their lives.
Takano:My main goal is for everyone to come back home safely without getting hurt. I can be impatient and rush into things at times, so once the race begins, I intend to take a step back and observe what is going on, and perform my work to make sure that no one gets hurt.
― How did your family respond when you were chosen for the Dakar Rally team? Kinoshita:My wife told me that I had nothing to worry about in terms of life at home and encouraged me to give it my best effort. That was a big relief for me, so I am very grateful for that. Our daughter didn’t seem that interested on the surface, but I later learned that she had been telling her friends, “My dad’s dream is coming true!” Learning that she was actually happy for me nearly brought tears to my eyes. Our son is still young, so he will miss playing with me, but soon after I made the team, he began collecting Dakar Rally brochures and watching videos, so I think we are seeing a Dakar Rally fan in the making.
Takano:My father, who is also a mechanic, has that hard-nosed craftsman temperament, and the only thing he said to me was, “Don’t catch a cold.” But I later heard from my mother that he was actually very happy for me. I have two younger brothers―one a mechanic and the other a civil servant. They’ve both known about the Dakar Rally for many years, so they are watching a lot of videos and feeling happy for me. Above all of that, my wife is fully supporting me so I am very happy with that.
Yamauchi:Although I’m sure my wife did have some concerns about me making the team, when I told her that I passed the screening test for the Dakar Rally, she sent me out with full support saying, “Go do your best now that you’ve made the team.”
Shibutani:My wife and I were married in November last year, and I had been telling her even before we got married that I intended to make the Dakar Rally team one day but right before the Dakar Rally screening event, we learned that she was pregnant so I was honestly torn between wanting to take on the Dakar Rally challenge and to be away from home at an important time in our lives. When I honestly expressed my feelings to her, she encouraged me saying, “That’s great! You should go!” I can’t thank her enough because I think I would have passed up on this opportunity otherwise.
― This is the first time that mechanics from Hino Motors Gunma, Hino Motors Toyama, and Hino Motors Kobe were chosen for the Dakar Rally team. What did your superiors and seniors at your workplace have to say? Takano:When we learned that I made the team, my superior told me, “I wholeheartedly congratulate you. Go do your best and leave no regrets as a representative of Hino Motors Gunma.” I will be away from the workplace for many months, but my seniors were kind enough to send me out saying, “Go do your very best.”
Yamauchi:I will never forget what the managing director told us at the announcement of the screening results. People at my workplace also sent me out saying, “Give it all you got.”
Shibutani: Just before this temporary transfer, my superior set up a sending away party for me. He warmly sent me out saying, “This is the first time that a mechanic from Hino Motors Kobe has made the team and there will be a lot of things that will be new to you. Go do your best, but don’t push yourself too hard.” I knew that it was a busy time for our dealership, so I was very grateful for them taking the time to set up that party for me.
― You will be the fifth mechanic to join the team from Hino Motors Yokohama. Have you received any advice from mechanics who were previously on the team? Kinoshita: I’ve been speaking with them from the time I applied for the Dakar Rally mechanic screening, but all four of them had different things to say (laughs). Most of the advice wasn’t about skills, but about the mental and day-to-day life aspects of enduring the harsh conditions. So I got a feel that those were the things that they had the hardest time with.
― What does the Dakar Rally mean to you? Takano:It’s a dream and a challenge.
Kinoshita: I’ve aspired to be in the Dakar Rally from way back. In the Paris-Dakar days, I remember watching TV broadcasts of racers driving through the Sahara Desert. I was just so enthralled with it, and was a big fan. When I joined Hino Motors Yokohama, this aspiration turned into a goal, and now it has become a reality. That’s where I am now.
Shibutani:I think it’s an event that all Hino mechanics aspire to at one point in their careers.
Yamauchi:I see this as an opportunity to take on challenges, and that’s why I’m here. One of my seniors also told me that it was the most trying experience in his life, so I see this as a trial, and I’m ready take on this challenge. That’s why I’m here.
― This is a question for mechanic sub-leader Mr. Okabe. Four dealer mechanics were chosen at the screening and now the team has all of its members. How is the teamwork?
Mr. Yoichi Okabe (Vehicle Planning & Production Engineering Div., Hino Motors)
Okabe:All four dealer mechanics are people who have the ability to support each other, and I can see for myself that they get along very well. I also wanted to blend in with everyone else, so I made it a habit to call them “something-chan” to remove any sense of separation between us. I call Mr. Takano “Taka-chan,” Mr. Kinoshita “Kinotch-chan,” Mr. Yamauchi “Yama-chan,” and Mr. Shibutani “Shibu-chan.” I’ve asked them to call me “Bay-san”! I hope everyone will blend in as soon as possible so that we can build up our teamwork.
― You took part in the Silk Way Rally last year. As someone with previous rally experience, is there any advice you would like to give to the four mechanics? Okabe: In a situation that is vastly different from what we are usually accustomed to, where we only have a limited range of tools and have to fight against time, we will inevitably have some trouble preparing for our servicing tasks at first. We have an inspection and servicing sheet that we work with, but in the first few days at the Silk Way Rally last year, we had a hard time following the workflow, and our actions got a bit scattered, making it difficult to work as a coherent team. This year, we conducted drills on the actual truck while we were still in Japan, working with the inspection and servicing sheet. We will be servicing the truck in Moscow before the start of the rally, so although the environment in the actually rally will be very different, I think we will be able to work more smoothly this year. I want the mechanics to ask me anything without hesitation if they have any concerns or questions! Speaking of having only a limited range of tools, I think the mechanics use the tools that they find to be the most useful for any given situation in their day to day work at their dealers, but in the rally, we only have a bare minimum range of tools. So I would like to make sure that everyone comes to know the tools well and share their knowledge with each other because we can improve our efficiency by combining different sets of tools. In terms of fighting against time, we have to calculate the amount of time we have for servicing the truck from the time it returns from the race to the time it will be taking off again. We won’t have any servicing issues as long as the truck doesn’t have any breakdowns or other problems, but last year, we had a lot of issues including cracks in the vehicle, damaged transfer gears, and broken leaf springs, which forced us to work under tight time constraints. Additionally, time zone changes will have a major effect as the Silk Way Rally course will travel from west to east. On one particular day, we had minus three hours for servicing due to the time difference. We certainly will be affected by these time differences this year again, so I hope that we can all bring our minds together and overcome these issues with teamwork to get our work done safely, quickly, comfortably, and reliably. Speaking for myself on the day-to-day life in the rally, my body rejected the food at the Silk Way Rally last year and I had stomach problems during the rally. I endured the discomfort and continued my work, but I realized that this was a mistake as I ultimately caused more problems for the other members. If anyone notices any changes in their physical condition, it’s important that they tell me immediately and seek medical attention if necessary. Another thing is that it’s difficult to always stay composed throughout the race. Even Mr. Suzuki, our mechanic leader, lost his cool at times. So if anyone is having a hard time with something, don’t carry the burden yourself, and voice your opinions or views to relieve any stress. And in the end, I look forward to being able to laugh about these things and have a great time at the rally with everyone! Let’s all make sure to keep our spirits high and put in all that we’ve got as integral members of HINO TEAM SUGAWARA!