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

The Star Early Edition - - MOTOR SPORT - MICHAEL PLACE, ALAN BALD­WIN AND IOL MO­TOR­ING STAFF

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.

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