BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - South Africa’s Team Rhide SA, first time out in the the Dakar Rally, won the First Timers' class and finished in the Quads' top 10.
THAT'S HOW YOU DAKAR: SA's Hannes Saaijman won the First Timers' title and finished in the top 10. Image: Facebook/Team Rhide SA
Hannes Saaijman was in the saddle for the First Timers' title and the top 10 place and was the only South African in all the competitors to win a stage!
He and Dakar team mate Brian Baragwanath are two of South Africa’s most experienced off-road quad champions. The tackled the 2015 Dakar as Team Rhide SA, its name derived from ‘rhino’ as the team competed to create awareness for the plight of the rhino, killed obscenely for the sake of trinkets and "libido".
LONGEST QUAD TOW
The team had an early disappointment when Baragwanath had engine problems on the first day and Saaijman hauled him for what could possibly be the world's longest quad tow - 620km to the overnight bivouac - and had to quit on Stage 2 with two disintegrating rear tyres, the pair that do all the work.
Saaijman (32) broke his right hand 10 days before the start of the rally but soldiered on despite also experiencing numerous flat tyres (he carried a spare wheel on his quad) and other mechanical problems caused by the long hours of racing and riding under extremely tough conditions. The Pretoria businessman reached his goal to finish the Dakar Rally and completed more than 9000km in two weeks on his Yamaha Raptor 700.
He was ninth in the quad category (45 quads started the race, 18 made it to the finish) and won the First Timers' class. He was also the only South African competitor (a total of 10 South African competitors started the Dakar Rally on January 4in the quads, motorcycle, car and truck categories) to win a stage - the very last one in maximum conditions and called off by the organisers because of torrential rain.
'NOT A RACE, IT'S A SURVIVAL'
“The Dakar is not a race,” Saaijman said afterwards. “It is survival! The terrain is extremely rough and the dust is very, very bad. It is not like any race we know in South Africa and you have to approach it differently. That is what I decided to do after starting the race a bit too fast and making mistakes."
The team entered the Dakar Rally with the aim to finish the race and win it. They admitted that although they were quite well prepared for a ‘rookie’ team attending this huge race for the first time and doing so with an extremely limited budget, they still learned a lot.
Looking back, Saaijman remembered a few days he described as "some of the worst days in my life" in Bolivia where it was extremely cold and he did not have enough warm clothing. It also rained heavily while they were on their way to the start of the stage and the rivers were flooding. While some competitors wanted the organisers to cancel the stage he was determined to push through.
“I paid a lot of money to do the race and was not going to give up,” he said. "I looked for a safe place to cross the flooded river and found a train bridge to continue on the route. Afterwards I discovered that many riders suffered from hypothermia - extreme chilling - because of the extreme weather."
Luckily the altitude (almost 5000m above sea level when racing in the Andes mountains) did not affect him although it did affect his Yamaha as the engine lost much power.
Riders will remember the first of the two Marathon stages* (Stage 8 in Bolivia) as the stage where the world’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni, took its toll on numerous quads and bikes, among them South African motorcycle rider Riaan van Niekerk who was 12th overall at that stage. The pan was under water due to the heavy rain and the salt damaged the electronics and other parts on the bikes and quads.
Saaijman will remember the day because he lost more than three hours before he could even start the stage due to a faulty ignition solenoid. He had to play mechanic while it was bitterly cold before he could even start racing. He then picked up penalties (time added to his final result) when he missed two way points (certain points riders had to pass) as he decided to rather get to the overnight bivouac before sunset than getting stuck in the dunes after dark.
After racing for 12 days (the race was on for 13 days, but one day was a rest day) Saaijman, who claimed a podium result at Stage 11 by finishing the stage in combined third place, had moved up to ninth in the quad category and it was time for the last day’s stage in Argentina. It proved to be a highlight of his Dakar when he posted the fastest time of the quads to become the only South African competitor to win a stage.
Two South African quad competitors have won the Dakar: Vicus van Deventer (twice) and Cornel de Villiers (2004). In 2003 Sarel van Biljon was 21s after winning three stages. Only one other South African, Giniel de Villiers, has won the Dakar Rally - that was in 2009, but he nearly did it again this year with second. Without his missed way point, he would probably have won.
Team Rhide SA made a name for itself and will return to South Africa on Wednesday (Jan 21).
*Dakar Marathon Stage: No service crew or back-up at the end of the stage. Riders and car/bakkie/truck crews must repaior and prepare their motorcycles and quads with the equipment, tools and parts they carried.
Profile Brian Baragwanath: #275
Profile Hannes Saaijman: #286 .