Mid­lands fam­ily root­ing for Botswana’s ‘Kala­hari Fer­rari’ in Dakar

The Witness - - SPORT - CARL PETERS • [email protected]­ness.co.za

MUL­TI­PLE­South­African­cross­coun­try­mo­tor­cy­cle­cham­pion­Ross­Bran­chis­the­Mid­lands’­con­nec­tion­to­the­Dakar­Rally,­and­the­32-year-old­says­heis­ “hav­ing­ the­ time­ of­ his­ life”­ in­ his­rookie­chal­lenge­in­the­sands­of­Peru.

Branch,­who­is­tack­ling­the­world’stough­est­stage­race­un­der­the­Botswana­flag­but­has­fam­ily­liv­ing­in­this­re­gion,­reached­22nd­spot­over­all­in­his­cat­e­gory­in­his­KTM­ma­chine­for­theBas­Dakar­team­be­fore­the­sec­ond­hal­fof­the­5000-kilo­me­tre,­10-stage­mis­sion­got­un­der­way­yes­ter­day.

“The­last­five­days­have­been­re­al­ly­hec­tic­on­my­body,­es­pe­cially­with­theadded­weight­on­my­back­that­I­need­edto­carry.­Other­than­that,­I’m­feel­inghealthy­and­strong­and­ready­for­week­two!”­he­said­at­the­week­end.

“One­of­the­goals­was­to­get­into­thetop­ 20­ over­all,­ which­ I’ve­ proved­ is­ within­reach.­I’m­just­go­ing­to­take­it­day­by­day,­though,­and­make­sure­my­bike­ and­ my­ body­ stays­ in­ one­ piece!

“Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing­the­Dakar­is­truly­liv­ing­my­dream­—­it’s­ev­ery­thing­I­wanted­it­to­be­and­more.­I­didn’t­ex­pectto­be­hav­ing­so­much­fun­on­my­bike,­ even­on­the­long­stages.­I’m­hon­est­ly­hav­ing­the­time­of­my­life!”

Branch­has­won­nu­mer­ous­ti­tles­in­South­ Africa­ and­ Botswana,­ and­ isknown­for­his­pas­sion­and­grit.

And,­be­cause­he­de­vel­oped­into­the­fastest­cross­coun­try­rider­in­South­ern­ Africa,­ his­ apt­ nick­name­ is­ ‘Kala­har­iFer­rari’.

He­ also­ said­ in­ the­ state­ment­ re­leased­by­his­team:­“Stage­five­was­the­hard­est­stage­I’ve­rid­den,­I­could­writea­book­about­it!­The­ter­rain­changedso­much,­and­the­nav­i­ga­tion­was­re­al­ly­tough.­There­was­also­a­lot­of­“fesh”[pow­dery­sand],­which­is­some­thingwe’re­ not­ used­ to­ back­ home.­ The­dunes­ were­ mas­sive­ —­ I­ don’t­ thinkpeo­ple­can­com­pre­hend­how­big­the­yare­on­TV.­If­that­wasn’t­chal­lengin­ge­nough,­I­also­had­a­crash­and­burstmy­fuel­tank!­I­nursed­it­back­home,but­I­lost­a­lot­of­time.”

His­ team­ said­ he­ had­ “faced­ some­hair-rais­ing­chal­lenges­that­had­the­po­ten­tial­to­put­his­Dakar­jour­ney­to­a­hal­tat­times,­but­the­joy­of­liv­ing­out­hisDakar­ dream­ has­ clearly­ sur­passedthem­all”.

Branch­added:­“To­ride­with­the­bestDakar­rid­ers­in­the­world­is­re­ally­quite­ some­thing.­...­The­next­five­stages­I’llbe­ fo­cus­ing­ on­ nav­i­gat­ing­ and­ try­inggo­a­bit­quicker.­It­de­pends­on­the­stage,though,­be­cause­some­days­the­ter­rain­suits­ me­ and­ other­ days­ it­ takes­ meright­out­of­my­com­fort­zone.­The­mainthing­is­to­just­keep­my­head­down­and­stay­out­of­trou­ble,­and­then­hope­ful­lyget­faster­ev­ery­day.”

Mean­while,­ for­mer­ cars­ cat­e­go­rycham­pion­Giniel­de­Villiers­from­SouthAfrica­said­the­com­pe­ti­tion­had­de­vel­oped­in­such­a­way­that­he­and­fel­lowToy­ota­Ga­zoo­Rac­ing­SA­driver­Bern­hard­ten­Brinke­would­now­look­to­sup­port­the­ti­tle­chal­lenge­of­their­team­mate­Nasser­Al­At­tiyah­for­the­rest­of­pun­ish­ing­race.

Al­ At­tiyah­ and­ nav­i­ga­tor­ MathieuBaumel­were­16­min­utes­ahead­in­the­s­tand­ings­go­ing­into­Stage­6­yes­ter­day,with­ com­pe­ti­tion­ from­ Peu­geot­ andMini­teams.

PHOTO: KTM

Ross Branch dur­ing Stage 5 of the Dakar Rally in Peru.

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