Argentina - It may have been a French victory in the Dakar with the first win in 26 years for Peugeot, courtesy of rally raid legend Stephane Peterhansel, but the South African teams and competitors in the 38th edition of the toughest race on earth did our country proud.
After more than 9000km of racing in arduous conditions five locally engineered and built Hilux V8 bakkies finished in the top twenty, with local Dakar hero Giniel de Villiers taking the final podium position for Toyota Team Gazoo, team mate Leeroy Poulter finishing in fifth and Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi coming home just outside the top ten in eleventh.
This was achieved against arguably the fiercest Dakar competition the team faced in the last five years – again proving our indigenous engineering prowess and the resilience of the South African competitors.
An exemplary record
For local Dakar legend Giniel de Villiers and seasoned German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz it was another highly frustrating race at times.
With another podium in 2016 the pair has an exemplary Dakar record, with Giniel finishing on the podium seven times – consisting of a victory (in 2009), four second places and two third positions – in 13 starts. The man from Stellenbosch has finished every Dakar he started and his worst ever result was 11th.
This year 'Ginny and Schnietzel' faced seemingly insurmountable odds. With a brace of rally raid and WRC champions in very fast machinery just finishing in the top five would have been a massive achievement.
Early in the race it was also clear that the course suited the new Peugeot buggies well, and they dominated proceedings. “The first week was frustrating for me.
We were behind the Peugeots and even Nasser, with all that altitude and sand,” he said.
The fact that Stage 9, which suited the Hilux better, was shortened (due to safety concerns) added to the South African’s frustration, but the pair fought back well and their pace on the long penultimate stage surprised their rivals.
Another positive for the Toyota Gazoo team was the performance of upcoming star Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie. A fifth position in only their third Dakar and beating the likes of Roma, Despres, Terranova, and Loeb showed De Villiers now has a team mate that can work with him to secure stage wins and assist when necessary.
Poulter’s speed is unquestionable and he so nearly scored two stage wins. But, as De Villiers indicated at the finish of the event in Rosario, “we need to improve our top speed”.
"I'm happy with the reliability of our vehicle, but it's difficult to hold our own against turbo engines. The Peugeots are very fast. We're reliable but not fast,” he said.
Where to from here?
With reliability not an issue, the team need to find more grunt for the Hilux. But to now start developing a turbo diesel racing engine to counter the Peugeots and Minis won’t be feasible.
So perhaps the answer lies in levelling the playing field in terms of rules and regulations for the top classes, such as negotiating another allowance in air restriction for the naturally aspirated V8, asking for bigger balloon type tyres and requesting on-the-fly tyre pressurisation…
Be sure that Toyota Team Gazoo principal Glyn Hall is already compiling a list of suggestions and will be lobbying them to the organisers and the FIA… Watch this space.
Mzanzi’s other vehicle heroes
Locally built vehicles also occupied another five positions in the top twenty – Russians Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov took eighth position in their Team Overdrive operated Hilux, while privateers Mark Corbett and Juan Möhr finishing 17th in their locally built Century CR5.
They were followed by the two SA developed Renault Dusters in the hands of Argentinians Emiliano Spataro/Benjamín Lozada and Frenchmen Chris Lavieille/Jean Michel Polato, and both locally developed Ford Rangers, entered by South Racing, also finished – in 29th and 32nd positions respectively.
Mzanzi rookie privateers Sean Reitz and Riaan Greyling ranked 37th overall in their Red-Lined Racing Nissan Navara, an exemplary result given that Reitz less than three years ago started racing off-road vehicles.
Before the event Reitz was quoted as saying: “Finishing the race would be winning for me.”
Well, with the assistance of Greyling and a dedicated all South African crew he did just that…
Red-Lined also prepared a similar Navara for Jurgen Schröder, the experienced German Dakar competitor affectionately known as the “Mad German” and his son, Daniel. They unfortunately rolled out of the event on the penultimate stage.
Corbett’s Century team mates, Colin Matthews and Rodney Burke, finished two places down from Reitz and Greyling in 39th position, while South African Dean Berriman, on board a DAF truck, finished 34th in the truck section with his crew.
2016 Dakar Rally Overall Standing: With SA competitors
1. Stéphane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Peugeot 45h22min10sec
2. Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qat)/Mathieu Baumel (F) Mini +34min58sec
3. Giniel de Villiers (SA)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (D) Toyota +1h02min47sec
4. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Michel Perin (F) Mini +1h05min18sec
5. Leeroy Poulter (SA)/Robert Howie (SA) Toyota +1h30min43sec
6. Nani Roma (Esp) / Alex Haro (Esp) Mini +1h46min38sec
7. Cyril Despres (F)/David Castera (F) +1h49min04sec
8. Vladimir Vasilyev (Rus)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (Rus) Toyota +2h04min49sec
9. Sébastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (MC) Peugeot +2h22min09sec
10. Harry Hunt (UK)/ Andreas Schulz (D), Mini +3h08min58sec
17. Mark Corbett (SA)/Juan Möhr (SA), Century +7h05min20sec
37. Sean Reitz (SA)/Riaan Greyling (SA), Nissan +20h21min48sec
39. Colin Matthews (SA)/Rodney Burke (SA), Century +21h25min41 sec
1. Toby Price (Aus) KTM 48h09min15sec
2. Stefan Svitko (SVK) KTM +39min41sec
3. Pablo Quintanilla (Chl) +48min48sec
4. Kevin Benavides (Arg) Honda +54min47sec
5. Helder Rodrigues (Por) Yamaha +55min44sec
81. Kobus Potgieter (SA) KTM +40h06min53sec
1. Gerard De Rooy (Nld) Iveco 44h42min03sec
2. Ayrat Mardeev (Rus) Kamaz +1h10min27sec
3. Federico Villagra (Arg) Iveco +1h40min55sec
4. Hans Stacey (Nls) Man +2h23min01sec
5. Ton van Genugten (Nld) Iveco +2h30min59sec
34. Paul Verheyden (Bel), Shuan Berriman (SA), Kurt Keysers (Bel), MAN, +28h13min47sec
1. Marcos Patronelli (Arg) Yamaha 58h47min41sec
2. Alejandro Patronelli (Arg) Yamaha +5min23sec
3. Brian Baragwanath (SA) Yamaha +1h41min53sec
4. Sergei Karyakin (Rus) Yamaha +1h44min25sec
5. Jeremias Ferioli (Arg) Yamaha +2h02min08sec
21. Ted Barbier (SA) Yamaha +41h18min57sec