World’s toughest race gets to halfway mark
Dakar 2020 reached its halfway point as the epic race stormed into Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh Friday evening, ahead of the traditional rest day there on Saturday as Carlos Sainz followed Mini teammate Stephane Peterhansel home to consolidate his overall car lead and Ricky Brabec extended his overall bike lead with another stage win on his Honda. It was mostly a good day in all for the Southern African competitors, although Monday’s winner, Botswana rider Ross Branch added to an already historic ride when he nursed his machine home with a broken rear wheel on Friday.
13-time Dakar winner on both bikes and cars, Frenchman Peterhansel led most of the way en route to taking his second car win of this year’s race over Mini teammate, Spanish double World Rally and Dakar champion Carlos Sainz Senior, who hit back after a slow start to come home third and extend his overall advantage over Qatar’s defending Dakar champion Nasser Al Attiyah’s SA-built Gazoo Toyota Hilux.
Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi came home fourth in his Hilux ahead of Mattieu Serradori’s South African-built Century-Corvette buggy and an ever improving top rookie Fernando Alonso and his factory Gazoo Toyota teammates, Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and South Africa’s former Dakar winner, Giniel de Villiers. Overall, Sainz extended his lead over Attiyah to over seven minutes, of which three of those are courtesy of Al Attiyah’s Day 3 blocking penalty — something that could well become a major factor as this year’s race grinds on.
Peterhansel remains third overall from Al Rajhi, Argentine Orlando Terranova (Mini) Serradori, de Villiers and Ten Brinke. Dakar 2020 started with unknown Lithuanian Zala taking a shock opening stage win in his Mini, before de Villiers took day 2 in that historical SA double victory with bilker Branch. Since then however, it has been all about the Minis with Sainz and Peterhansel sharing out the wins day by day.
Also of South African interest among the cars, Red-Lined Motoring Adventures’ gentleman drivers enjoyed their beast day of a challenging Dakar so far as South African duo Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger brought their TreasuryOne Nissan Navara home 30th and Dubai-based Britons Thomas Bell and Patrick McMurren ended 33rd. De Klerk now runs 36th overall, Bell 45th.
Moving on to two wheels Californian Brabec took his second Dakar stage win to extend his overall lead to 20 minutes over Chilean Husqvarna rider Pablo Quintanilla after former bridesmaid, Aussie Toby Price lost 16 minutes on the day to slip back to third Behind Quintanilla. Brabec beat Honda teammate Joan Barreda Bort by a minute and a half in the race to Riyadh with Austrian KTM star Matthias Walkner fourth from Quintanilla, Argentine Luciano Benavides (KTM) and Chilean Jose Ignacio Conrejo Flormino on another Honda.
The Honda riders will however not be too comfortable following the re-emergence of that old Honda Dakar bugbear of broken engines that has cost it the last two overall wins following Kevin Benavides’ engine failure today. Brabec now leads Quintanilla by 20 minutes overall as Price slipped back to third from Flormino, Barreda and Walkner.
Looking back at the first week, Price took the opening day before unknown Botswana rider Ross Branch stole day 2 and then Brabec took day 3. Cornejo Flormino took Wednesday’s stage, but only after Brit Sam Sunderland was docked 3 minutes for speeding before the Aussie crashed out the following day when Price won again and then Brabec took Friday’s stage.
Botswana’s new Dakar star Ross Branch has had an eventful Dakar, winning day 2 out of the blue and then crashing and hurting his shoulder on Tuesday before bounding back with a splendid third on Thursday. Ross then suffered that broken wheel on Friday to lose over two hours as he coaxed his KTM to the finish
Of the other Southern African riders, KTM-mounted SA lady Dakar heroines Taye Perry ended a most impressive 53rd and Kirsten Landman 64th on Friday, while no assistance Original class rider Stuart Gregory (KTM) ended 83rd, the delayed Branch finished 85th and Zimbabwe’s Graeme Sharp 91st. Overall, Branch lies 25th, Perry 61st, Landman 65th (and third and fourth respectively in the ladies class), Gregory 74th and Sharp 83rd. Veteran Wessel Bosman and Honda factory rider Arron Sharp have both retired hurt.
Spaniard Gerard Farres-Guell meanwhile took Friday’s Side by Side win from Chilean Lopez Contaro, Brazilian Varela and Franco-South African crew Cyril Despres and Mike Horn who won on Thursday, while Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach came home sixth. Overall Contardo leads from US driver Casey Currie and Russian Sergei Kariakin, while Rautenbach lies sixth.
On the quad race, Frenchman Simon Vitse and Alex Giroud put one over overall leader, Chilean Ignacio Casale to take the day, while Russians Andrey Karginov and Anton Shibalov made it a Kamaz-1-2 over Belarusian Siahrei Viazovich (MAZ) in the trucks as veteran Karginov consolidated his overall lead in the behemoth class.
Dakar now enjoys its traditional midway rest day in Riyadh before it is back to racing for the second half sparrows Sunday morning en route to Wadi Al Dawasir on the longest stage of the race at over 546km.