SA CHAMPS: Brian Baragwanath and Giniel de Villiers were both third on the 2016 Darak Rally podium for Quads and Cars respectively. Image: Supplied
Argentina - Over the last two decades of the Dakar Rally the true passion and grit of South African motor sportsmen have shone through in the quad bike category
Think of the likes of Wicus van Deventer, the Lichtenburg dairy farmer who in December 1997 arrived in a cold Paris dressed in shorts, a soldier’s bag (a ‘balsak’ for those familiar with the term) over his shoulder and a spare engine for his Bombardier quad in his hand luggage.
To get to the start he rode 800km through sleet and snow and then promptly set out to win the “experimental class” – as the quad class was known back then.
SA's Dakar competitors
Fixing his steed with duct tape and fence wire in the African dunes and supplementing its overheating motor’s depleted water supply with urine gave him victory in the 1998 edition, and he repeated the feat the next year…
In 2004 multiple SA quad champ Cornel de Villiers, virtually the only quad rider to make it to the finish in Dakar of an extremely tough edition of the world renowned race, added another overall victory for SA in the quad section.
Read: Baragwanath clinches Quad podium for SA
So, by the time the Dakar moved to South America in 2009, Mzanzi already boasted two quad champions, but since then the (now official) quad class was dominated by the Patronelli brothers from Argentina…
There were some heroic efforts by local riders recently, the most notable being the performance of Hannes Saaijman from Team Rhide last year when he won the final stage on his Yamaha and was classified ninth overall.
In 2016, 26-year old Limpopo resident and four times SA quad champion Brian Baragwanath honoured the proud tradition set by his forbearers.
In what can only be described as the ride of the event – winning two stages and claiming the final podium position in Rosario after 13 gruelling stages through Argentina and Bolivia – Baragwanath is the real SA hero in this year’s Dakar.
Baragwanath made a good start, finishing second on stage 2 and winning the next one – but then dropped down the order with punctures and mechanical problems.
By the halfway mark he was down in tenth position, but then started his fightback – matching the Patronellis for pace all the way back to San Juan and moved up to third overall.
Read: Dakar 2016 wrap: SA's off-road heroes
But his biggest test was yet to come. On the long penultimate stage before Rosario he lost a lot of time, and suddenly found himself off the podium in fourth position – nearly 7 minutes behind the Russian Sergei Karyakin.
On the last 180km stage the South African threw all caution to the wind, not only winning the stage, but making up over 7 minutes – yes, that’s over 2 seconds per kilometre – on Karyakin to claim the final podium spot…unbelievable.
Ultimately he finished an hour and a half behind the Argentinian brothers Marcos and Alejandro Patronelli, with Karyakin fourth and Argentinian Gonzalez Ferioli fifth.
His Team Rhide SA team mate Ted Barbier finally finished 21st out of 23 classified finishers, while George Twigge had to withdraw with mechanical problems on stage 9.
Superman’s 50th birthday present
In the bike category, won by Aussie Toby Price (KTM) on his second attempt, ahead of Slovakian Stefano Svitko (KTM) and Chilean Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna), the lone South African entrant Kobus Potgieter lived up to his Superman reputation.
It took a super(hu)man effort for Potgieter to make it to Dakar. He was in rehab for more than a year after a horrendous crash in the Australasian Safari Rally in 2009 when he fell from his bike and another competitor rode over him.
Since then it took him 365 days of rehab in hospitals (after his crash in Australia), 22 motorbikes, 50 000kms of riding, two marriages and over a hundred days of travelling each year to finally get to the start of his first Dakar.
He promised himself a 50th birthday present by finishing the event, and this he did, after many trials and tribulations coming home in 81st position on his KTM…