South Africa’s Dakar triumph


    19 January 2009

    Giniel de Villiers, together with German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz, claimed victory in the Dakar Rally at the weekend when he safely negotiated the final 227-kilometre stage to become the first South African winner of the world-famous event.

    The 2009 edition proved to be a highly successful one for South Africans. Navigator Ralph Pitchford was second across the line with De Villiers’ Volkswagen Touareg teammate, Mark Miller of the United States, just eight minutes and 50 seconds behind the winners.

    In addition, two Nissan Navara pick-ups, especially built by Nissan Motorsport in South Africa for the Dakar Rally, finished in fourth and fifth places.

    Further down the field, Alfie Cox, so often a leading contender in the motorbike category, achieved his goal of simply finishing the 9 574-kilometre race in his Porsche-powered buggy.

    Dakar Rally in South America!

    The Dakar Rally name was certainly misleading this year. Due to safety fears, last year’s event had been called off at the last minute; this time around the organisers took no chances and elected to stage the race in Argentina and Chile.

    Having seen some of the towering dunes in the desert during this year’s race, television viewers could have been forgiven for thinking the event was still taking place in Africa.

    De Villiers had previously come agonisingly close to victory in the Dakar in 2006, when he finished second, and he was leading in 2007 when his engine caught fire and scuppered his chances of victory.

    ‘It’s absolutely incredible’

    “It’s absolutely incredible,” De Villiers said afterwards, “I have never felt such emotion. “I couldn’t stop counting up how many kilometres remained. I have to say, it’s an incredible feeling.

    “I am really happy for the team, for Volkswagen, who have backed us for five years to achieve this win.”

    With De Villiers finishing first, Mark Miller second and Dieter Depping sixth, all ahead of the first Mitsubishi finisher, Volkswagen well and truly ended the Japanese manufacturer’s extraordinary run of seven successive Dakar Rally victories.

    Alfie Cox

    For Alfie Cox, a veteran of the Dakar as a motorcyclist on a factory-supported KTM, contesting the 2009 race in Argentina and Chile as a privateer was a very tough challenge.

    After making it to the finish with his co-driver, Jurgen Schroder from Germany, he reflected back on the race: “We are exhausted, but very proud that we persevered and very satisfied with what we achieved,” he said.

    “This year the race was very, very tough in general,” Cox said. “The top drivers like Peterhansel, Sainz, Al Attiyah and many others withdrew from the race. Those who continued suffered in their state-of-the-art machines; it was just so much worse for the privateers and amateur teams.

    “Jurgen wanted to finish a Dakar and earn a Finisher’s Badge in the year that he turned 50, while I wanted to race through another major desert. That we achieved, but it was not easy.

    ‘A massive achievement’

    “Only 55% of all the competitors who started this year’s race managed to get to the start of today’s (final) stage,” Cox noted. “Finishing the Dakar is a massive achievement.”

    Spaniard Marc Coma took victory in the motorbike class, dominating to win by almost an-hour-and-a-half over second placed Cyril Despres.

    Third place went to David Fretigne, who was one of only two riders in the top 10 who was not on a KTM.

    Firdaus Kabirov, driving a Kamaz, won the trucks title, while Czech rider Josef Machacek, on a Yamaha, won the quads category.

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