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 podiums in the motorcycle, car and side by side classes. Botswana motorcycle hero and multiple South African Cross Country champion Branch (KTM) stormed home to a sensational and historic maiden Dakar stage win, while SA's 2009 Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers had a far better second day to win the car race in his SA-built Toyota Hilux.
It was also a strong outing for Zimbabwean ex SA rally champion Conrad Rautenbach, who led the way as he fought to third the Side by Side class behind winner Chilean Lopes Contardo and two seconds adrift of Spain's second-placed Hinojo Lopes in another day of surprises as the race sped to Neom in Saudi Arabia.
2018 Dakar Rookie of the Year Branch put in a mesmerising performance to run second behind Honda rider Joan Barreda, before moving his KTM into the lead of the motorcycle race at the day’s third waypoint. Quite astoundingly, winner 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 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 sixth.
It was a tough day for overnight motorcycle leaders Toby Price (KTM) and Ricky Brabec (Honda), but not quite as bad as SA rookie Aaron Mare, who retired after injuring a wrist on Sunday. A little further back in the bikes, Zimbabwe’s Graeme Sharp (KTM) rode in 74th, Original class man Stuart Gregory (KTM) 87th and SA’s lady riders Kirsten Landman (KTM) was 97th and Taye Perry (KTM) 113rd albeit after running as high as 58th, while Wessel Bosman (Husqvarna) was lying 132nd. Monday is the first part of the bike and quad Marathon stage, which restricts elite riders to just 10 minutes of maintenance support at the end of the day...
Giniel Bounces Back
De Villiers enjoyed a steady day after his tough four-puncture first stage to move up from his fourteenth 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. De Villiers then took advantage of Al Rajhi’s last sector woes to move into the lead and take the day 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.
PH Sport driver Rautenbach meanwhile rose from 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 navigated Cyril Despres to ninth in the side by sides while Red-Lined Nissan car pair, SA TreasuryOne crew Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger stormed from 59th to 33rd on the day, with Thomas Bell’s similar Sabertooth car 49th.
Drama in the Cars
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 ran into problems 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 delayed for two hours in the desert with suspension damage on his Toyota.
In quad action, former winners Ignacio Casale and Rafael Sonik fought it out for the win with Sonik taking the day in the end, while Bulgarian Vladimir Viazovic (MAZ) took the truck win from Kamaz trio Dimitri Sotnikov, Andrey Karginov, and Anton Shibalov.
Tuesday’s third Dakar Saudi Arabia stage comprises a 427km loop around Neom. Can the Southern African heroes keep this incredible ball rolling?
Image: Car winner de Villiers