SA racers move up the ranks in Dakar

2014-01-14 00:00

AFTER racing at 3,5 km above sea level on Sunday, the Dakar racers yesterday had to go even higher for Stage 8, which crossed the Andes Mountains to race around and over Chile’s Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt flat in the world.

At an altitude of nearly 4,9 km above sea level, the racers yesterday reported struggling to breath and feeling nauseous, but at the time of going to press last nigth the log showed 12 racers with links to SA were still contending the Dakar in cars, on bikes and in a truck.

Up front in the cars, Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewits yesterday started and ended in third place overall in their Toyota Hilux, behind the two Red Bull Minis. The pair had a narrow miss with a wild llama on Sunday night (SA time) and struggled with a puncture.

Toyota team-mates Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie moved up two places to 28th overall, but are more than 10 hours behind the front runners.

With more than 36 hours of careful racing behind them, South African privateers Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr (DMack/Barden Toyota Hilux) yesterday ended 17th overall, after they had achieved their best stage result of the Dakar Rally on Sunday.

In their made-in-KZN Ford Ranger, Lucio Alvarez and Bernardo Graue made up a lot of lost time yesterday, moving from 42nd to 36th overall, rising above the series of misfortunes that dogged them over the 9 300 km to date. Not so lucky are their team-mates Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, who crashed out on the second day.

Mark Wilford for Team Ford Racing reported how — in the 47°C heat on day five — several cars and bikes had caught fire and burned out. “While speaking to one of the [competing] teams, we heard the heart-breaking story of how their crew stopped to replace a punctured tyre in the middle of a stage.

“Once they got going again, the retained heat in the destroyed wheel loaded on the back [teams face disqualification for leaving anything on the route] combined with the high ambient temperatures and heat soak from the car caused the damaged tyre to catch fire.

“Although the driver and navigator managed to escape unharmed, all that was left once the flames died out was a charred, bare metal skeleton,” said Wilford in a statement.

On the bikes, South African rider Riaan van Niekerk (Broadlink KTM) stated 13th in the queue while the privateer Brett Cummins dropped from 26th to 31th overall, but still aiming for a podium place in the privateer class.

Van Niekerk’s motorbike is still scorched after he crashed into front-runner Paulo Gonzalves’ burning Honda and nearly set himself alight while navigating through tall grass on Thursday’s hot-as-hell stage 5. Van Niekerk was fastest at the start of yesterday’s stage, but dropped back to a safer sixth position as the stage progressed.

This year’s Dakar has already seen 100 out of the 180 bikes retire, and Van Niekerk is well aware that to win, a racer has to finish.

The trucks results were still out at the time of going to print last night, but Johannes Geel is the only South African still in the race, lying 45th among 54 trucks in a Mercedes-Benz racing truck.

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