The door to the Dakar Rally 2017 is now wide open for Hout Bay resident David Thomas after he finished 18th in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally in Morocco, North Africa, last month.
In April he completed and earned an overall 10th place in one of the world’s most gruelling races, the Abu Dhabi Dessert challenge and walked away with the rally’s rookie award (“David’s raring to go…” Sentinel, April 15).
Both rallies were qualifying races for the Dakar Rally 2017 and David plans to take part in the Dakar in honour of his late brother, Justin, who died in a car accident on his 30th birthday in 2003.
David said he and his brother were very close and often spoke about doing the Dakar rally together and being able to participate in the rally is a dream come true for him.
He returned to South Africa on Sunday May 29.
This year’s Afriquia Merzouga Rally, which took place from Saturday May 21 to Friday May 27, marked the sixth anniversary of the race and proved to be extremely tough.
David competed with his Husqvarna 450 rally replica and al-though the race started well for him and he achieved the 10th fastest time after the short three kilometre prologue that determined the starting order for the first of five race days to follow, he could not have imagined what the rest of the race had in store for him.
On day one of the race he was violently ill with food poisoning after having eaten chicken and vegetables for supper the previous night.
“It was incredibly tough as I was so dehydrated that I could not focus properly. I must have vomited more than 30 times during the race as I could not keep any liquid down,” he said.
His condition resulted in him missing two navigation points and being penalised for it. He eventually finished the stage in 12th place which left him in an overall position of 34th in the race.
Feeling better the next day, he was determined to improve on his results in stage two, he pushed extremely hard and made up 10 places in the race and finished the stage in 16th place.
“It is very difficult to make up time in a race and when you lose time it starts affecting you mentally. I had to force myself to stay calm and remain focused. It taught me a very valuable life lesson,” he said.
The following day marked stage three which is the first of the marathon stage - where competitors have to race for two days without the assistance of their service crews.
This means competitors had to conserve their tyres and their bikes as they could not service them after the stage before taking on the next day’s racing section.
This stage started off well for David but took a turn for the worse when he got lost for about two and a half hours.
“Being lost in the desert is no joke,” he said.
However, despite the ups and downs the desert presented, he still managed to move up a few more places.
And then came the final stage which was a mass start racing in the dunes. He finished this race with the14th fastest time which resulted in him earning an overall 18th position in the race and a secure entry into the 2017 Dakar Rally.
“I suppose to finish in the top 20 between some of the world’s best competitors, is not too bad for a rookie. I am disappointed about the mistakes I made, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons and gained much needed experience for the Dakar Rally,” he said.
David will be leaving for Paraguay in South America - where the Dakar Rally will start - on Christmas day. The event will start on January 5 and finish on January 20 and will have 15 stages of competition, which will comprise a total distance of over 8 500 kilometres.
And from now until then it is just practise, practise, practise for David.