Botswana's Ross Branch delivers 'superhuman' ride on Dakar Day 4
AL'ULA, SAUDI ARABIA - Most people never knew who Ross Branch was before Monday afternoon, but that all changed when Botswana’s multiple South African cross country champion rode his KTM to a shock Dakar Saudi Arabia second day victory. Branch’s glory was short lived as the Kalahari Ferrari took a tumble, separating his shoulder, severing the tip of a finger and damaging his KTM enough to destroy its navigation tower, among the damage.
Undeterred, Ross got up with the help of rival Pablo Quintanilla who stopped to help, dusted himself off and rode his buckled machine the 350km home to the finish. Most would have written Branch off by then, but he’s a tough cookie and lined up 46th on Wednesday morning, claiming that he would 'ease into it'. Branch was however 26th by the first waypoint, 21st at the second, 14th and then seventh at the final timing point, before storming into the finish in an incredible third in what can only be described as a superhuman effort.
Multiple Bike Leaders
Privateer racer Branch was 1 minute and 6 seconds off provisional winner of the day, factory KTM rider Sam Sunderland and works Honda duo, Chilean Jose Ignacio Conrejo Flormino and Argentinian Kevin Benavides, but Sunderland was docked 5 minutes for speeding, which promoted those three, as well as Portuguese rider Paulo Goncalves (Hero), Californian Ricky Brabec (Honda) and 2019 winner, Aussie Toby Price up one position each.
Sunderland, Price, Brabec and Benavides all took chances to lead the way. Overall, Brabec leads Benavides and Florimo in a Honda bike 1-2-3 ahead of KTM men Price and Sunderland and Chilean Quintanilla (Husqvarna), while Branch moved up a few places to 18th.
From a Southern African point of view, SA KTM lady riders Taye Perry and Kirsten Landman were 60th and 70th, Zimbabwe’s Graeme Sharp (KTM) 67th and no assistance Original class man Stuart Gregory rode in 84th. Overall, Taye sits 66th, Kirsten 71st, Stu 72nd and Graeme 83rd. Most interestingly though, Taye Perry and Kirsten Landman are 3rd and 4th in the woman's race, both within 25 minutes of second placed Dutch lass Mirjam Pol.
Giniel bounces back
Wednesday's 453km stage from Neom to Al-Ula was a busy one for the cars. Known as Mr. Dakar, 13-time winner, Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel overcame the challenges of taking English instructions from Portuguese notes man Paulo Fiuza and a tough couple of days in the office, to move his Mini buggy into the lead midway through the day’s stage. He then stormed to a powerful Day 4 win over 2019 Dakar winner Nasser Al Attiyah’s South African Gazoo Toyota Hilux and double world Rally and Dakar champion Carlos Sainz in another Mini buggy.
Local Saudi hero Yazeed Al Rajhi (Hilux) ended fourth on the day ahead of Frenchman Mattieu Serradori, who had run in the top ten for most of the day en route to fifth in his SA-built Century-Corvette buggy and SA hero Giniel de Villiers, who bounced back to sixth ahead of Dutch Gazoo Racing Toyota team-mate Bernhard Ten Brinke. Mini men Jakub Przygonski and Orlando Terranova were next up, with former double F1 world champion and Le Mans 24 winner Fernando Alonso provisionally tenth in the fourth factory Hilux.
Overall leader Sainz now holds a diminished 3-minute lead over Al Attiyah with Peterhansel now two positions up to third and nine minutes closer to his team-mate. Al Rajhi is now fourth from Terranova, Serradori, de Villiers and Ten Brinke.
The two South African Red-Lined Nissan Navaras continued to deliver their gentleman drivers the ultimate adventure as Pretoria men Hennie de Klerk and Johan Smalberger were finished 38th in their TreasuryOne version but Englishman Thomas Bell had run out of spare tyres for his Sabertooth machine and had to wait for back-up, and thus had a long night ahead of him. Also not so happy was Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach, who had a troubled day with his PH Zephyr in the Side by Side class, where Chile’s Lopez Contardo fought Russian Sergei Kariakin and Spain’s Hinojo Lopes for the lead.
Frenchman Simon Vitse was in a surprise quad lead in a tight race with Chilean pair, overall leader Ignacio Casale and Giovanni Enrico and Argentine Manuel Andujar, while Russian Kamaz duo Andrei Karginov and Anton Shibalov were in a strong truck lead over Dutchman Jan van Kasteren’s Iveco after overall leader Sergei Viazovich (MAZ) had lost 10 minutes, at the time of writing.
Dakar moves into its fifth day sees crews taking in the sandy hills from Al’Ula to Ha’il on Thursday 9 January - will Ross Branch be a factor in the cars and can Giniel de Villiers make it another sensational Southern African double?
- This Dakar Report is brought to you by Motorsport Media courtesy of TreasuryOne Motorsport and Red-Lined Motoring Adventures.