Sensational Dakar day 2 for SA as Giniel, Branch win stages
NEOM, SAUDI ARABIA - In a sensational second day of Dakar 2020, Southern African competitors Ross Branch, Giniel de Villiers and Conrad Rautenbach took a historic hat-trick of wins in the motorcycle, car and side by side classes.
Botswana motorcycle hero and multiple South African Cross Country champion Ross Branch stormed home to a sensational and historic maiden Dakar stage win on his KTM, while 2009 SA Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers had a far better day to win the car race in his SA-built Gazoo Racing Toyota Hilux. It was also a strong day for Zimbabwean ex SA rally champion Conrad Rautenbach, who fought for the Side by Side class lead in another day of surprises as the race sped to Neom in Saudi Arabia.
Giniel bounces back
De Villiers enjoyed a steady day after his tough four-puncture first stage to move up from his 14th starting spot to fifth by the first waypoint and then second behind Saudi home hero Yazeed al Rajhi’s similar SA-built Toyota by the end of the fourth sector. He then took advantage of Al Rahji’s woes to move into the lead and take the day's stage from Mini driver Orlando Terranova, Sheik Al Qassimi’s Peugeot and Frenchman Mattieu Serradori, who delivered a sensational fourth in his South African-built Corvette-powered Century buggy. The stage win saw de Villiers move up to sixth place overall.
It was another dramatic day as the rest of the car top ten ebbed and flowed behind the consistent de Villiers and flying Al Rajhi, who had taken complete advantage of his home knowledge to lead the way and open up a significant stage lead through day 2, while his rivals preserved their tyres as they learned the way. Al Qassimi led the early chase before he hit trouble to allow reigning champion Nasser Al Attiyah to take up the chase, but he too hit trouble to see de Villiers into second ahead of Russian Vladimir Vassiliev’s Mini, which also later suffered problems.
Behind them Mini men, overnight leader Vaidotas Zala, Mr Dakar Stéphane Peterhansel and double winner Carlos Sainz, Al-Attiyah and Toyota teammate Bernhard Ten Brinke, all suffered significant delays to punctures, navigation and other drama, while Dakar debutant, double world F1 champion Fernando Alonso was stopped in the desert with suspension damage on his Toyota.
PH Sport driver Rautenbach meanwhile rose form a thirteenth place start to sixth, third and second before taking the side-by-side class lead from Spaniard Hinojo Lopez and then becoming immersed in a five-way fight for the win into the final sector. Of the other Southern African four-wheeler competitors, Mike Horne was navigating Cyril Despres in eighth in the side by sides while Red-Lined Nissan car pair, SA Treasury one crew Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger had raced up to 21st as we wrote, with Thomas Bell’s similar car 39th.
2018 Dakar Rookie of the Year Branch put in mesmerising performance to run second to behind Honda rider Joan Barreda before moving his privately-entered KTM into the lead of the motorcycle race at the day’s third waypoint.
Quite astoundingly, Branch was the only privateer among a factory rider-dominated top 15 motorcycles as KTM’s Sam Sunderland disposed of Husqvarna rider Pablo Quintanilla for third from ahead of Argentine brothers Kevin (Honda) and Luciano Benavides (KTM) and Joan Barreda (Honda). Sunderland now leads the bikes from Quintanilla and Kevin Benavides with Branch now sixth.
It was a tough day for overnight motorcycle leaders Toby Price (KTM) and Ricky Brabec (Honda), but not quite as bad as it was for SA rookie Aaron Mare, who retired after injuring a wrist on Sunday. A little further back in the bikes, South African female contender Taye Perry (KTM) was running a stunning 58th at the time of writing on Monday afternoon while Zimbabwe’s Graeme Sharp (KTM) rode in 77th. SA’s second lady rider Kirsten Landman and Original class men Stuart Gregory and Wessel Bosman (Husqvarna) were 96th, 97th and 132nd.
The road ahead
Tuesday’s third Dakar Saudi Arabia stage comprises a 427km loop around Neom. Can our Southern African heroes keep this incredible ball rolling? Watch this space to find out.