Quad rider: it was very cold

South African Saai­j­man over­comes the odds to fin­ish 8th over­all in the gru­elling 2015 Dakar

The Witness - Wheels - - SUPPLEMENTS - ELZA THIART-BOTES and AL­WYN VILJOEN

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.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

Team Rhide with Hannes Saai­j­man still smil­ing on his quad at the start of this year’s Dakar.

PHOTO: FACE­BOOK

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.

PHOTO: DAKAR

Hannes Saai­j­man be­fore the

race.

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