SA competitors (and vehicles) impress in 2020 Dakar
QIDDIA, SAUDI ARABIA - While Dakar 2020 will ultimately be remembered for Carlos Sainz senior winning his third race in a third different make of car, Ricky Brabec taking his first bike win and also for the loss of the life of Dakar motorcycle hero Paulo Gonçalves, it will also go down as the best ever for Southern Africans.
Drivers, riders, teams and cars from south of the Limpopo starred with stage wins, podium finishes and heroic efforts all-round as Sean Berriman navigated US driver Casey Currie to the SSV win and several others delivered top ten finishes.
Spanish former double world rally champion Sainz added a third Dakar win aboard his Mini buggy to his 2010 Volkswagen and 2018 Peugeot victories. He beat Qatari 2019 winner Nasser Al Attiyah’s South African built and run factory Gazoo Racing Toyota Hilux and former 13-time Dakar winner on two and four wheels, Stephane Peterhansel’s Mini after that pair started the final day split by just six seconds.
Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi (Hilux) came home fourth ahead of South Africa’s former Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers (Gazoo SA Hilux), the consistent Argentine Orlando Terranova (Mini AWD) and Dutch driver Bernhard Ten Brinke (Gazoo SA Hilux), while former F1 star Fernando Alonso ended 13th overall after rolling his Gazoo SA Hilux among several other adventures over the past two weeks.
Giniel plagued by punctures
Giniel de Villiers added another stage win to his incredible Dakar CV on Dakar Day 2, but he had to work hard to overcome several punctures and a few navigation issues early on with punctures set to be another point to remember in the early days of this year’s race.
Dakar 2020 was also a great race for tiny Johannesburg race car maker Century after Frenchman Mattieu Serradori took the team’s first ever Dakar day win en route to a splendid 8th overall aboard the Corvette-powered machine in a truly giant-killing performance.
It was a tough but rewarding race for Kyalami-based Red-Lined Motoring Adventures, which ran a pair of Nissan Navaras for gentleman crews, but Dakar delivered a poisonous sting in the tail to TreasuryOne duo Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger, who started 27th in Friday's final stage off a fine week following a difficult start, only to be left stranded within spitting distance of the finish with transmission failure. They duly made it to the finish to claim 34th overall, two places ahead of their Dubai based British team-mates Thomas Bell and Patrick McMurren.
A relatively new Dakar class, the side-by-side vehicles delivered a thrilling race throughout with positions changing by the waypoint literally throughout the two weeks, but American Casey Currie, driving with SA lad Sean Berriman, managed to be most consistent to take an ultimately easy win over Russian Sergei Kariakin, Chilean Francisco Lopez Contardo and Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach.
Honda breaks 31-year Dakar duck
It was a big Dakar for Honda as Californian Brabec stormed home to a crucial Dakar motorcycle win for Honda in not only its first Dakar win in 31 years, but Brabec also finally broke KTM’s 18-year stranglehold on Dakar bike wins and made good the huge disappointment of Honda losing the two previous editions after dominating much of the way each time.
Chilean Husqvarna rider Pablo Quintanilla was second from last year’s winner Toby Price (KTM), while Chilean Jose Ignacio Cornejo Flormino (Honda) took the final day win to jump to fourth ahead of KTM pair, Austrian Matthias Walkner and Argentine Luciano Benavides.
Several Southern African bikers delivered heroic Dakar rides, not least Botswana’s former triple SA champion Ross Branch, who riding as a privateer, took a stunning Day 2 win and rode most of the way well within the top ten on his own KTM against the might of the factory teams.
A few challenges along the way including a big fall and riding with a separated shoulder and severed fingertip and then an epic effort to get his machine to the finish of another stage in spite of a destroyed rear wheel, dropped him well down the order but still the plucky privateer fought back 21st as he put his hand up high for consideration as a future factory rider.
SA's female riders impress
Equally epic was SA female rookie Taye Perry’s superwoman effort aboard her KTM. Taye had ridden brilliantly to start the penultimate day a splendid 51st overall and third among the lady bikers, but her machine developed a problem to leave her stranded in the desert 300km from home. Undaunted, Taye was towed out of the stage and arrived at the bivouac at midnight, her bike was repaired and she rode home to finish 78th overall and fourth among the ladies.
Perry’s loss was Kirsten Landman’s gain - SA's second lady rookie rode a consistent Dakar on her KTM to come home a splendid 54th overall and third among the ladies.
Among the other SA bikers, no-service Original class rider Stuart Gregory (KTM) from Port Edward also enjoyed a relatively trouble-free run to 63rd overall and 11th in that ‘malle moto’ class, while Zimbabwean rookie Graeme Sharp wrapped up a solid debut in 74th.
Two more South African bikers, factory Honda rookie Aaron Mare and veteran former Springbok hurdler Wessel Bosman both retired early in the race, while Mike Horn retired in the second week.
The Russian Kamaz army dominated the truck race as Andrey Karginov thundered home to clinch the overall win over team-mate Anton Shibalov with Belarusian driver Siarhey Viazovich third in a MAZ, while Chilean Ignacio Casale won the Dakar quad race from Frenchman Stefan Vitse.
This Dakar 2020 coverage was brought to you by TreasuryOne Motorsport, Red-Lined Motoring Adventure and Motorsport Media.