Quad rider: it was very cold
South African Saaijman overcomes the odds to finish 8th overall in the gruelling 2015 Dakar
ONLY one South African racer managed to win a stage in this year’s Dakar, and that despite riding with a broken throttle hand.
Hannes Saaijman, for Team Rhide, finished eight overall on his Yamaha Raptor 700 after both he and the quad had survived over 9 000 km of hard cross-country racing that forced over 63% of the quad entries to retire.
Many of these riders withdrew because they suffered badly from hypothermia in the high altitude racing while a lot fell victim to brine that stopped their bikes in their tracks.
Saaijman remembers the extreme cold with a shiver and said after the race he would rather ride naked in Lesotho’s snow that ever be that cold again.
His team-mate, Brian Baragwanath, was one of the earliest withdrawals with engine problems on the first day. Saaijman towed his Baragwanath 620 km to the overnight bivouac.
In the process he suffered two flat rear tyres that later disintegrated and he had to be airlifted to the finish.
Due to the amount of time the Rhide pair had lost on the first day, Saaijman started the second day at the back of 150 racers. Over the next two weeks he worked his way to the front until he was in the top 15.
Saaijman rides with three shortened fingers on his right hand due to a old car crash. This normally makes holding the throttle a bit of a chore, but on top of this he broke his right hand — including his remaining finger — only 10 days before the start of the Dakar. The 32-yearold soldiered on until he breached into the top 10, finishing ninth overall in the quad category, winning the First Timers Class and ending eight in the class for 0-900 bikes.
“The Dakar is not a race,” Saaijman said afterwards. “It is survival! The terrain is extremely rough and the [fesh-fesh] dust is very, very bad,” he said at the halfway mark in Chile.
“It is not like any race we know in South Africa and you have to approach it differently. That is what I decided to do after starting the race a bit too fast and making mistakes.”
Looking back, Saaijman remembers a few days he describes as “some of the worst days in my life”. These few days were in Bolivia, where it was close to freezing and he did not have enough warm clothes. It also rained heavily while they were on their way to the start of the stage and the rivers were in flood. While some competitors wanted the organisers to cancel the stage due to the rain and flooding, he was determined to push through.
He explained how he looked for a safe place to cross the flooded river and found a train bridge to continue on the route. Afterwards he discovered that many riders suffered from hypothermia because of these extreme weather conditions.
Luckily the altitude (they climbed to almost 5 000 m above sea level when racing in the Andes Mountains) did not affect this Gautenger, although it did affect his Yamaha as the engine lost some of its power.
The first of the two marathon stages (Stage 8 in Bolivia) over the world’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni, also took its toll on numerous quads and bikes including SA motorcycle rider Riaan van Niekerk who was 12th overall at that stage. The pan was under water due to the heavy rains and the brine got in anywhere, damaging electronics and other parts on the bikes and quads.
Saaijman will remember this day as he lost more than three hours before he could start the stage due to a faulty ignition solenoid. This meant that he had to play mechanic while it was bitterly cold before he could even start racing.
He then picked up penalties (time added to his final result) when he missed two waypoints as he decided to rather get to the overnight bivouac before sunset than getting stuck in the dunes after dark.
After racing for 12 days (the race was on for 13 days, but one day was a Rest Day) Saaijman, who claimed a podium result at Stage 11 by finishing the stage in combined third place, has moved up to the ninth place in the quad category and it was time for the last day’s stage in Argentina.
It proved to be a highlight of his “Dakar” when he posted the fastest time of the quads to become the only South African competitor to win a stage during the 2015 Dakar Rally.
Team Rhide returns from the Dakar Rally scarred but wiser. They admitted that although they were quite well prepared for a newbies on an extremely limited budget, they still learnt a lot.
Team Rhide with Hannes Saaijman still smiling on his quad at the start of this year’s Dakar.
After stage two, with two tyres that had disintegrate d before SA rider Hannes Saaijman realised he had to pace himself a lot slower in the Dakar race.
Hannes Saaijman before the