SA vehicles impress as Dakar Rally kicks off
JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - The Dakar Rally entered a new era as the event raced through the Saudi Arabian desert for the first time on Sundays' 319km run along the Red Sea from Jeddah to Al Whjh.
It also proved to be a day of surprises as literally unknown Lithuanian Viadotas Zala took the car win in his JCW Mini.
13 time Dakar winner Stephane Peterhansel and 2018 victor Carlos Sainz completed a Mini 1-2-3 while defending champion Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar took fourth spot in his South African-built Gazoo Hilux bakkie. Al-Attiyah was quick from the start and led for 200km before he was slowed by three punctures in the closing part of the stage.
It was a less than ideal start for his Toyota team-mates, however, with former F1 star Fernando Alonso placing 11th and SA’s Giniel de Villiers languishing in 14th after suffering four punctures.
Alonso said the Dakar represents his toughest challenge to date and his main aim is to get to the finish in Qiddiya on January 17.
"I don't want to... quit after the second or third day because of a stupid mistake," the 38-year-old had said before the start. "I have to approach it with a certain calmness."
SA vehicles impress
The Hiluxes weren’t the only SA vehicles out to impress, with a Joburg-built Century Buggy coming home in sixth place with Frenchman Mattieu Serradori at the wheel.
Among the other vehicles with a South African connection, the two Red-Lined Nissan Navaras saw British driver Thomas Bell enjoy a solid run to 35th, while SA pair Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger fought back to 58th after losing an hour at mid distance.
Price dominates on two wheels
Australian Toby Price, the reigning motorcycle champion for KTM, started where he finished the 2019 event with a stage win but only a five second advantage over American Ricky Brabec on a Honda after a two minute penalty.
From a Southern African point of view on two wheels, Botswana ace Ross Branch rode his KTM home a fine fourteenth and SA rookie Aaron Mare ended 34th as he found his Dakar feet.
It was a good first day for the other Southern African riders, not least lady rookies Taye Perry and Kirsten Landman who rode their KTMs home 73rd and 95th respectively, no-assistance pair Stuart Gregory (KTM) was 86th and Wessel Bosman (Husqvarna) ended 135th, while Zimbabwe’s Graeme Sharp (KTM), who came in 93rd.
Former winners, Chilean Ignacio Casale and Pole Rafael Sonik topped the quad stage for the day ahead of the Czech Kubeinioa in a Yamaha rout. Unfancied Pole Maciej beat US rider Casey Currie to the Side by Side win, where Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach ended eleventh, while SA navigator Mike Horn had been fourth alongside Cyril Despres before the duo hit trouble to lose 50 minutes to drop back and end 20th. There was almost a turn-up for the books among the trucks too, as Russian Kamaz rookie Andon Shibalov held of Belarusian Siarhei Viazovich (MAZ) and Dutchan Janus van Kasteren's Iveco.
Sources: Motorsport Media & Reuters