“I feel more free when I am in the driver’s seat. I like the open space, places like the desert, away from the internet, away from the noise, and away from people. Just yourself and the vehicle. For me, this is freedom.”
Oko! Magazine caught up with Tomáš Tomeček at the recent PVA Racing Expo in Prague. Since 1995, Tomáš has competed at the highest level with Czech-owned and -operated Tatra. In the famous Dakar Rally, he has achieved one third-place finish (1999), two second-place finishes (1996 as navigator, 2003 as the pilot), and a first-place finish (1995 as navigator). He’s also a three-time winner of the Africa Eco Race (2011, 2012, and 2014), in which competitors race from Europe to Africa, beginning in Monaco and finishing in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.
His career has spanned across more than two decades, during which he has competed in competitions across the world, including in Germany, Poland, Portugal, and Tunisia. He has made eight appearances in the Africa Eco Race and 15 appearances in the Dakar Rally.
When asked about what motivated him to continue competing at the highest level for more than
25 years, he simply says, “Freedom. I feel more free when I am in the driver’s seat. I like open spaces, places like the desert. Away from the internet, away from the noise, and away from people. Just you and the vehicle. For me, this is freedom.”
When asked about how he developed a passion for motorsports and racing in general, he points to Tatra and his father as his biggest influences.
“It was my father that encouraged me to pursue motorsports. I used to try and balance my passion for racing with my studies at the University of Technology in Brno but my father told me I had to choose one or the other. This is when I decided to purchase a Jawa 500 motorbike and where things really started to take off. The decision led all the way up to 1992 when I competed in my first rally as a pilot in Belgium.”
Speaking about why he chose to represent Tatra, Tomáš says, “I’m very proud of the fact that I am Czech. We might be a very small country, but we are a very proud one. I’m from Moravia and around 70km from my childhood home was the Tatra manufacturing plant, where I actually ended up working from 1993.” So in a way, it was destiny that Tomáš, would wind up working and competing for this company.
He made his debut for Tatra at the Dakar Rally in 1995, navigating for Czech rally legend Karel Loprais, a six-time Dakar winner in the truck category. From here, he would go on to compete in a plethora of competitions across the globe over the next decade, achieving success again with a first-place finish (as navigator) in the Rally Granada in 1995, and a second-place finish in 1996. Later he became part of the first Czech team in history to compete in the Transsylvania Trophy in Ukraine, picking up a fair play award alongside Petr Kopečný.
Tomáš returned to the Dakar Rally in 1999 as part of a Czech-Brazilian team, finishing fourth overall. This was the first time he had competed as the lead pilot in the Dakar Rally, racing in his famous Tatra 815 VE.
Over the next ten years, he would go on to compete in a further ten Dakar Rallies, finishing as high as second in 2003. In 2005 and 2006, he won back-to-back titles at the Rallye du Maroc (Rally of Morocco), along with wins in the Rallye Maroko Shamrock (2009) and the Tunisian Rally in 2008.
In 2011, he made his debut in the Africa Eco Race, winning the competition on his first outing, and triumphing a further two times in 2012 and 2014. However, in the most recent edition (2018), Tomáš made headlines throughout the rally community by becoming the first driver outside the bike category in the history of this competition to race solo without a navigator.
Tomáš explained the decision, “Since 1995 at the Granada Rally, I always noticed that the bikers in the race had a very difficult job. They encountered a lot of mechanical problems and had very minimal assistance throughout the race. Since I saw this, I always had an idea to try and experience the feeling that they had when they raced.
“When you drive a car or a truck like me, you have a navigator, a full support staff, and support vehicles to assist you throughout the race. But the bikers, they travel at top speeds across the same distance as us yet they are alone for almost the entire duration of the competition. So since I saw this, it was always a dream of mine to complete a race completely alone.”
And when asked what the experience was like, Tomáš simply said, “Super, absolutely fantastic. I felt total freedom when I raced like this.”
Looking back at a 26-year career, Tomáš talked about some of the major changes and differences in the sport since his debut in 1995.
“Technology has made us lazy. The drivers today are sometimes not as prepared for good
old-fashioned ‘hard work.’ Previously, drivers were limited in the assistance they could receive during the competition. Nowadays, as long as the marketing, exposure, and partnerships are in place, drivers can receive all the assistance and comfort they need.
“The truck I drive has a limited setup, three pedals and a wheel. I am old-school. I’m proud to keep old traditions alive in modern rally truck racing, a simpler time because I am a simple man. And I’m thankful to have people and organisations that support me and this mentality, even if sometimes it presents a challenge.”
In January 2020, Tomáš and the Tatra racing team returned to Monaco for their tenth consecutive Africa Eco Race. Amazingly, Tomáš managed to finish in third place without the assistance of a mechanic or any form of navigation in his car.
Tomáš is now a seasoned veteran on the rally circuit so our final question to him was about what the future held. He responded by saying, “I am 49 years old now and have no plans to retire anytime soon. One day, I will have to look in the mirror and make that decision. But for now, I still have great passion and determination to continue. There is a 75-year-old driver who still competes on the circuit, so I think I have a lot of time left.”