Two South African wildcard entries in the 2013 Dakar Rally hope to grab the opportunity with both hands - not to just make up the numbers but to be genuine contenders.
WILDCARD CHANCE: South africans Brett Cummings (inset) and John Van Staden will compete- for Honda and McRae respectively- as two of six wildcard entries in the 2013 edition of the Dakar.
They're among six Dakar competitors chosen from five races on four continents for a place in the 2013 Dakar Rally.
The Dakar Challenge selection, held through the 2012 season, will give six drivers - two of them South Africans who will compete in the car and motorcycle classes - and their crews the opportunity to try their luck and compete with the best in the world.
The six are rookies like no others. For them, the Dakar was a distant goal which came within reach thanks to the Dakar Challenge. Roberto Recalde's fifth in the Argentine leg of the Desafío Litoral made his dream come true and now he's ready to fly his country's flag:
"We'll be the first Paraguayans in the rally. We want to be worthy representatives of our country," he said. To do so, Recalde and co-driver Carlos Zarza can compare their performance with that of the other Dakar Challenge top-finishers in the car category, such as Tarek El Erian, whose plans were overturned by his ninth-place finish in the Pharaohs Rally:
"I was planning to get married and had booked our honeymoon for the period around the Dakar. I'm really grateful to my wife-to-be because we did the unthinkable in Egypt, we postponed the marriage so that I could take part in the rally!”
South African John van Staden was not planning to discover South America in January either but he was all too happy to replace Evan Hutchison (winner of the Dakar Challenge in Botswana) when the latter waived his place and he is now ready to seize his chance and go for the top of the classification:
"When I was told I could get a wild card I said 'yes' without giving it a second thought and then I had two weeks to get everything ready. Now I want to make it all the way to the finish - if everything goes according to plan, in the top 20."
Fellow South African Brett Cummings, picked from the Australian leg, has what it takes to stay close to the fastest motorcycle riders, but he prefers to play down his chances for the time being:
"My main goal in the Australasian Safari was to get some experience under my belt and I finished fourth. At the Dakar, I just want to make it to the finish, and I'll be happy enough if I get into the top 50".
The Chinese winner of the Taklimakan Rally, Zhou Thian, will not be on the start line in Lima with his motorcycle but Cummings will get into a mini-competition with Jeremías Israel, sixth in July's Desafío Literal and holder of another Dakar Challenge wild card.
Peruvian quad driver Alexis Hernández, also from the Desafío Litoral gang, rounds off the Dakar Challenge pilot list. He said: "The Dakar makes me feel uneasy but also very respectful. It's a dream come true, I'm sure I'm going to enjoy it".
Dakar Challenge winners
89: Brett Cummings (SAF, Honda)
92: Jeremías Israel (CHL, Honda)
289: Alexis Hernández (PER, Honda)
388: Tarek El Erian - Mohamed Aly (EGY-EGY, Bowler)
403: John van Staden - Mike Lawrenson (SAF-SAF, McRae)
407: Roberto Recalde - Carlos Zarza (PAR-PAR, Higer)