Carlos Sainz took the Dakar lead on Tuesday. Picture: Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters.

NEOM, SAUDI ARABIA - Dakar 2020 bit hard on the third day's 427km loop around the future megacity of Neom as the race claimed several victims with top competitors exiting a race that continues to evolve seesaw-like through the Saudi Arabian Desert. It was however a good day for Carlos Sainz and Ricky Brabec, Mini and Honda, but not so good for most Southern African crews as Monday's car winner Giniel de Villiers struggled and bike winner Ross Branch was slowed after a crash, although Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach delivered his second Side by Side podium in two days 

Second for the second day in a row, former SA rally champion Rautenbach proved the best of the Southern Africans on Tuesday as he once again paced his PH Sport buggy to rise through the pack to split US dream team duo Casey Currie and Austin Jones’s Can Ams at the top of the fledgling Dakar Side-by Side buggy class leaderboard.

Car Duel of the Champions

The car race proved a three-way dice between the Minis of Spanish double world rally champion Carlos Sainz, 13-time Dakar winner Stephane Peterhansel and 2019 winner Nasser Al Attiyah in his SA-built Toyota Hilux, with double world F1 champion team-mate, Dakar rookie Fernando Alonso holding a watching brief in fourth. Behind them, Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi held off the Minis of countryman Yazeed Seaidan and Pole Jakub Przygonski’s Mini, but Peterhansel had issues to leave Sainz to take the day from Attiyah, Przygomski, Seaidan, a happy Alonso and Al Rajhi.

From a South African car point of view, Monday’s winner Giniel de Villiers came in ninth ahead of SA Hilux team-mate Bernhard Ten Brinke and Frenchman Mattieu Serradori in his SA-built Corvette-powered Century buggy.  The two SA-built Red-Lined Nissan Navaras were enjoying decent runs on Tuesday, with TreasuryOne duo Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger running 31st and Thomas Bell 46th. Overall, Sainz now provisionally leads Al Attiyah, Terranova, Al Rajhi, Peterhansel, Serradori and de Villiers, with de Klerk 33rd and Bell 50th.

Honda Whitewash on two wheels

In the bike race, it was a dream come true for Honda as the imperious Californian Ricky Brabec took control early on to lead all the way and win from team-mates, Chile's Jose Ignacio Conrejo Flormino and Spaniard Joan Barreda ahead of Argentine brothers Luciano (KTM) and Kevin Benavides (Honda), after French Xavier de Soultrait (Yamaha) and Aussie Toby Price (KTM) lost their way later on to end up 9th and 11th. Overall, Brabec moved into the bike race lead ahead of Florimo, Barreda and Kevin Benavides in a Honda 1-2-3-4 ahead of KTM duo Matthias Walkner and Luciano Benavides.

Ricky Brabec of United States. AP Photo/Bernat Armangue.

Ross Branch started the day well, but took a tumble after running wide and striking a rock at the 88 kilometre mark to injure his shoulder. The Botswana multiple SA Cross Country champion however heroically picked it all up, dusted himself off and sorted his KTM out before struggling 350km on to the finish as climbing from 122nd to around 55th, while somehow hanging on to 20th overall. Not so lucky were Branch’s fellow top-12 runners on Monday - Portuguese Hero rider Paulo Goncalves was stuck in the desert and French Yamaha ace Adrien van Beveren, who tumbled out of the race. 

The rest of the KTM-mounted Southern African bikers were having a good day with lady riders Taye Perry and Kirsten Landman running 71st and 77th at the time of writing, Zimbabwean Graeme Sharp 88th, all of them KTM-mounted. Veteran Wessel Bosman’s Dakar has come to an end after a fall - a fractured leg sees him join Honda rider Aaron Mare in retirement.

Unpredictable Results

Dakar 2020 is proving a tough nut on car and bike consistency - Monday’s overall bike winners Branch, Sam Sunderland and Pablo Quintanilla and car top two de Villiers and Orlando Terranova all lost time, while third placed Sheikh Al Qassimi rolled his Peugeot out of the race on Tuesday and it was a similar situation for Sunday’s leaders on Monday. 

While Dakar 2020’s virgin territory certainly is a contributor to that uncertainty, tighter rules that now see competitors' road books handed out 15 minutes before the start, rather than the previous evening, prevent 'map men’ from using satellite imagery to influence pace notes.. How much that has levelled the Dakar playing field is unclear, but some usually seamless Dakar crews are experiencing unexpected issues this year. It seems consistency is set to have a significant influence on this year’s Dakar results, which could well include a few dark horses come the finish in ten days time…

Wednesday’s fourth Dakar Saudi Arabia stage sees a 427km run from Neom to Al-Ula. Can our Southern African earlier stage winners strike back? 

- This daily Dakar Report is brought to you by Motorsport Media courtesy of TreasuryOne Motorsport and Red-Lined Motoring Adventures.