Peterhansel is the darling of the Dakar
His win makes it lucky 13 for the Peugeot star rally driver; another hero is SA’s Joey Evans
STEPHANE Peterhansel held off a challenge from Peugeot teammate Sebastien Loeb to claim his 13th Dakar Rally title in Argentina on Saturday.
The 51-year-old’s second place in the final 786km stage from Rio Cuarto to Buenos Aires was enough to ensure he finished on top of the overall standings with an elapsed time of 28h 49m 30s.
Loeb clocked the fastest time on Saturday to finish second overall, 5m13s behind Peterhansel, while Cyril Despres completed a clean sweep of the podium places for Peugeot (and French drivers) by taking third – 33m 28s behind.
“This victory is particularly sweet because the competition was so high,” Peterhansel said. “Battling Sebastien and finishing just a few minutes ahead is no mean feat.
“I want to thank Peugeot for not imposing any orders on the team, which I think exemplifies fair play and sportsmanship because the conditions were the same for everybody. There were, in all, seven or eight drivers with a shot at victory. Halfway through the race there were only four left, and by the final week it was just Sebastien and me,” he added.
“Yesterday (Friday), it was decided by a flat tyre, and that was probably the turning point in this Dakar.”
It was Peterhansel’s seventh Dakar Rally triumph in the car category to go with his six titles on a motorcycle. Nine-time world rally champion Loeb posted his best finish yet in the world’s toughest motorsport contest, having competed for the first time in 2016. “We gave it everything, held nothing back,” Loeb said. “We had a beautiful race. Second this year, we’ll have to do better next year.
“I don’t think I’m going to race in as many editions of the Dakar as Stephane, but my aim is to win dit some day… we’ll have to keep on trying.”
Proudly South African – his home is in the university town of Stellenbosch – every South African petrolhead claims #TheRealGiniel de Villiers as his own.
The former Dakar winner (with Volkswagen in 2009) charged past Depres on the short (64km) final timed section to take third for the day on the last day of the Dakar rally and nail down fifth overall after an extraordinarily difficult race even by Dakar standards.
The big V8 Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux bakkies were simply not competitive at altitude against the lighter, turbocharged Peugeots; navigation was at best a lottery and several stages at lower altitude where De Villiers hoped to claw back time from the dominant 3008 DKR buggies were either shortened or cancelled due to seriously bad weather. Nani Roma in the Overdrive Racing Hilux finished Stage 12 in a somewhat conservative eighth place, 81 seconds behind Loeb, but he knew that, barring disaster, his fourth position overall was secure, so he concentrated on avoiding disaster.
Zimbabwean rally ace Conrad Rautenbach, by contrast, had nothing to lose and let rip on the final stretch to finish just seven seconds behind Depres and consolidate his overall position of ninth in the car category and top rookie. That put three Hiluxes in the top 10, with Roma the winner of the T1 4x4 category; incidentally, there were no fewer than 24 ‘Made in Midrand’ V8 Hilux bakkies entered for the rally, more than any other model other than in the motorcycle category.
This year’s race will be remembered as the Dakar of the navigation nightmare, rain, mudslides and the cancellation and shortening of an unprecedented number of stages. Dakar organisers, in particular new route director Marc Coma, need to pay attention to this if the iconic event is to retain its status into its fourth decade.
Of the four Southern African riders who started in Asuncion, Capetonian David Thomas crashed out with a broken leg and Walter Terblanche was forced to withdraw with fuelling issues. Botswana’s Vince Crosbie completed his maiden Dakar in a creditable 36th place overall, but it was former paraplegic Joey Evans, pictured above, who had South African enduro enthusiasts cheering him on. He was classified 95th – but given that only 97 out of 167 motorcycle competitors made it to Buenos Aires, that made him a winner in anybody’s book.
French driver Stephane Peterhansel (right), co-driver Jean Paul Cottret (left), and Peugeot’s sports manager Bruno Famin celebrate their first place in the Dakar Rally in Rio Cuarto, Argentina.