While there was no South African on the overall winner’s podium at Dakar 2020, the country did manage to notch up quite a number of memorable finishes.
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Giniel de Villiers (from South Africa) and Spanish co-driver Alex Haro powered their South African built and run factory Gazoo Racing Toyota Hilux to victory on Stage 2 of the 12-stage race, held in Saudi Arabia, over a total rally distance of 7 900 km.
Their progress was hampered by multiple punctures, especially in the first week of the rally. They did, however, maintain a top ten position throughout the event, finishing fifth in the overall standings.
Dakar 2020 was also a great race for tiny Johannesburg race car maker Century, after Frenchman Mathieu Serradori took the team’s first ever Dakar day win en route to eighth overall aboard a Corvette-powered machine.
It was a tough, but rewarding race for Kyalami-based Red-Lined Motoring Adventures, which ran a pair of Nissan Navaras for gentleman crews. The Dakar, however, delivered a poisonous sting in the tail to TreasuryOne duo, 2018 Dakar Rookie of the Year Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger, racing out of Pretoria, who started 27th in the final stage, only to be left stranded within spitting distance of the finish with transmission failure.
The pair duly made it to the finish line to claim 34th spot overall, two places ahead of their Dubai-based British teammates Thomas Bell and Patrick McMurren.
A relatively new Dakar class – side-by-side vehicles – delivered a thrilling race, but American Casey Currie, driving with South African lad Sean Berriman, racing on a US licence, managed to be most consistent, taking an easy win over Russian Sergei Kariakin, Chilean Francisco Lopez Contardo and Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach.
Several Southern African bikers delivered rather heroic Dakar rides, not least Botswana’s former triple South African champion Ross Branch, who, riding as a privateer, took a Day 2 win and rode most of the way well within the top ten against the might of the factory teams.
A few challenges along the way included a big fall, riding with a separated shoulder and severed fingertip, as well as an epic effort to get to the finish of another stage in spite of a destroyed rear wheel. These events dropped Branch well down the order, to 21st.
Equally epic was South African lady rookie Taye Perry’s superwoman effort aboard her KTM.
Perry started the penultimate day 51st overall and third among the lady bikers, but her machine developed a problem to leave her stranded in the desert 300 km from home.
Perry was towed out of the stage and arrived at the bivouac at midnight. Here her bike was repaired and she rode home to finish 78th overall and fourth among the ladies.
Perry’s loss was Kirsten Landman’s gain. South Africa's second lady rookie rode a consistent Dakar on her KTM to come home 54th overall and third among the ladies.
Two more South African bikers, factory Honda rookie Aaron Mare and veteran former Springbok hurdler Wessel Bosman, both retired early in the race, while extreme adventurer Mike Horn, navigating for former bike winner Cyril Despres, retired in the second week.