Dakar 2020 bit hard as the third day’s 427km loop around the future megacity of Neom saw several top competitors exiting a race that continues to seesaw 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 winners Giniel de Villiers struggled and bike winner Ross Branch was slowed after a crash.
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 teammate, 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, Przygonski, Seaidan, a happy Alonso and Al Rajhi.
From a South African car point of view, Monday winner Giniel de Villiers was ninth ahead of SA Toyota Hilux teammate Bernhard Ten Brinke and Frenchman Mattieu Serradori in his made-in-SA Corvette-powered Century buggy. The two SA-built Red-Lined adventure racing Nissan Navaras enjoyed decent runs on Tuesday, with TreasuryOne duo Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger 34th and Thomas Bell 41st. Overall, Sainz now leads Al Attiyah, Terranova, Al Rajhi, Peterhansel, Serradori and de Villiers, with de Klerk and Bell now up to a respective 41st and 43rd.
The day delivered another super-tight Side by Side duel, with the top six machines swapping positions throughout and all of them just over three seconds apart at the flag. The Can Ams of Spaniard Gerard Farres Guell, Russian Sergei Kariakin US lad Casey Currie, Spain’s Hinojo Lopez and American Austin Jones were chased home by Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach’s PH Zephyr.
In the bike race, it was a dream come true for Honda as imperious Californian Ricky Brabec took control early on to lead all the way and win from teammates, 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.
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 picked it all up, dusted himself off and sorted his KTM out before heroically struggling 350km on to the finish, climbing from 122nd to around 55th and 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 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 finishing 69th and 75th at the time of writing, Zimbabwean Graeme Sharp 82nd and. Original class hero Stuart Gregory 98th, 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.
In the quads, Giovanni Enrico put one over former winner Ignacio Casale, Simon Vitse and Rafal Sonik, to leave Casale comfortably leading Sonik and Enrico overall, but the luckless Tomas Kubiena is out with a broken engine after a strong run. Andrei Karginov claimed Russian Kamaz glory with the day’s truck win as he held off Belarusian overall leader Sergei Viazovich (MAZ) and his Kamaz teammate Andrei Shibalov.
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.
Giniel de Villiers
While Dakar 2020’s virgin territory certainly is a contributor to that uncertainty, tighter rules now see competitors’ road books handed out 15 minutes before the start, rather than the previous evening, preventing ‘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. so it seems consistency will have a major influence on this year’s Dakar results, which could well include a few dark horses come the finish in ten days time…
Tuesday’s fourth Dakar Saudi Arabia stage sees a 427km run from Neom to Al-Ula. Can our Southern African earlier stage winners strike back?