South African racers still in the hunt as Dakar hits its final stretch

2014-01-18 00:00

THREE race crews with links to South Africa started the second-last stage of the two-week Dakar rally in the elite top 10. They are the teams of Toyota, Ford and Broadlink KTM. The rally ends tomorrow night.

Only 49 of the 152 cars that had entered the rally were still racing yesterday.

With the collective race time of the last 5 000 km determining the winners in the various classes, racers are now watching the seconds instead of the hours and their team managers are worrying about the famous red mist setting in. Several leaders had crashed out in previous editions when they tried to go too fast just to set a good time.

This is when a cool-headed co-driver has to calm things in the cabin. Unlike other famous rallies, like the Baja 1 000, racers in the Dakar do not know the day’s routes. The means the co-driver’s ability to read a map is as important to win a Dakar as is the driver’s ability to read the route surface.

Yesterday’s 700 km stage 12 was split almost equally between dune racing and connection routes, most of which were public roads on which the racers just had to maintain position.

South Africa’s normally aspirated petrol Hilux, driven by Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Dirk von Zitzewits, raced third overall, amid a brace of turbo-charged Red Bull Minis.

In their KZN-built Ford Ranger, sand specialist Lucio Alvarez and co-driver Ronnie Graue started in eighth position, moving up a notch after Thursday’s marathon, six-hour special stage 11. (Compare this to the World Rally Championship, where a special stage is at most 40 minutes long.)

SA pro-biker Riaan van Niekerk (Broadlink KTM) is expected to make a move from his lucky 13th position. He is only seven minutes behind front-runner Dakar champion Marc Coma. SA’s privateer rider Brett Cummins is in sixth place in the sub-450cc class on his KTM and may also aim for a top-five spot. Of the 196 riders that entered, only 71 are still racing.

Of the three South Africans that entered in the trucks, only co-driver Albert Johannes Geel started yesterday, but his French crew Arnaud Missagia and Pierre Hurtault seem happy just to finish 37th in their Merc. Of the 75 trucks that entered, 32 have bit the Dakar dust.

The survivors of last night’s Dakar penultimate stage 11 were not yet available at the time of going to print.

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