Dakar: South Africa drivers stage seven report

South Africans amongst the best in Dakar Rally. South African Alfie Cox led the bikes away on today's 584km special stage, the longest of the Dakar, a real test of courage; the second stage in Libya on the 25th Dakar Rally. Today's route,...

South Africans amongst the best in Dakar Rally.

South African Alfie Cox led the bikes away on today's 584km special stage, the longest of the Dakar, a real test of courage; the second stage in Libya on the 25th Dakar Rally. Today's route, running south and parallel to the Algerian border, was daunting; part of a so-called marathon stage in the 2003 Telefonica Dakar with no service crews at the overnight stop at Ghat, this means that the competitors will have to take care of their vehicles, maintaining them in a sufficiently fresh state in order to be able to reach Sabha without problems.

The best day for the South Africans belonged to the DHL Bombardier racer, Vicus van Deventer who won the Experimental Class and moved into second place less than 9 minutes behind the leader. "The Bombardier performs best of all in the marathon dunes and we are now in the toughest conditions. I had a nice day," said Vicus van Deventer at the finish.

The route was fast but varied landscapes over the first 300km, before reaching the start of the Awbari Erg, 50km of gigantic dunes followed with sumptuous forms, some of which towered an overwhelming 100 metres in height. The difficulty in dune crossing is choosing the right path between the monumental ergs. Afterwards, the trail continued through some magnificent countryside of canyons and great sandy stretches, with all the possible difficulties that a rally such as the Dakar can offer. A testing stage for man and machine alike. Many competitors got stuck in the sand, and problems there were plenty of.

With the dunes behind them, the crews powered through spectacular canyons over long stretches of sand before the route gave way to vegetation towards the end of the stage. The old city of Ghat is found on a hillside, however, like many other places in the Libyan Sahara, there are very few inhabitants. Many of the old settlements have crumbled away, but some, like Ghat, are being restored in the hope of attracting tourists. It is the gateway to the Akakus Desert and awash with canyons, huge rock arches, slender plinths and caves decorated with rock painting dating from 5000 B.C.; the whole area is conserved as a national park.

[IMAGE]"It was not an interesting day at all. Out of the 600kms, 50 were in the most magnificent dunes and the rest of it was just dust like you can not believe. And I don't think anyone enjoyed it. It was impossible to pull any time on the next guy, once everybody caught each other up in the dust. And then it was a story about marathon day: 'lets take it easy...' Whoever started first finished fifth and whoever started fifth finished first. I don't know what the solution is. The riders are all so evenly matched, and the bikes are identical, you just have to wait for the day when something goes wrong for the other guy. You can't have good days every day. There's the most beautiful desert out there and we haven't seen it yet. Nobody has impressed me at the moment because nobody is trying to," said Alfie Cox at the bivouac.

Cox continued: "Whoever started first finished fifth and whoever started fifth finished first. I don't know what the solution is." As expected the South African who took off first finished... fifth. On a very dusty track, it was indeed easier to start behind the others and catch them up one after the other exactly like in the three previous days in Africa. And today, it was Sainct's (KTM - n.3) turn to fly to victory. As part of the breakaway group, Cox is now in fifth place overall, with the opportunity to leapfrog to the front today.

"You win the Dakar by awaiting the mistakes of others, by awaiting mechanical problems, by awaiting a different terrain to make the difference. The Dakar is sometimes won by the best and sometimes won by the one who uses his brain," remarked Fabrizio Meoni of Italy, winner in 2001 and 2002.

The biggest bike upset of the day however came from Esteve Pujol (KTM - n.5) who had to withdraw from the race with a broken engine.

Considered an excellent student, South Africa's Giniel de Villiers is following closely in the footsteps of his Nissan tutor Ari Vatanen of Finland. He finished fourth in today's stage, maintaining his 6th overall position in his Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody. Giniel was rather satisfied with his day : "An extremely fast day, which needed quite a lot of driving. I am very pleased that we were able to achieve a good result, especially as the car did not give any problems. No punctures; our biggest problem was the dust. We left in 10th place and after 15 km, we caught up with the buggy. We stayed behind it for quite a while, which bothered us. We made a small navigation error, but nothing serious. And we weren't the only ones -- I really enjoyed the day, despite the length."

"You need some long stages to liven things up -- and tomorrow will be another long day--" said race director Hubert Aurial.

Tonight will undoubtedly be long for many of the competitors as they prepare their own machinery using only the tools they carry. For more serious mechanical problems, crews will be forced to wait for their racing trucks to arrive at the bivouac before repairs can be carried out before the long stage to Sabha, where all the other assistance vehicles are waiting.

Tomorrow, the competitors will face their third stage on Libyan soil, with a total of 727km to cover, including a 497km special stage of fabulous countryside, endless crossings and varied terrain, considered one of the most difficult stages in the history of the event. The Jebel Akakus mountain range will be particularly challenging, consisting of giant dunes and chiselled rocks. Once clear, the famous Murzuk Erg, known for its giant waves of uncrossable sand, awaits - last difficulty on the special stage. According to the organisers, it is the most difficult special stage of this rally. Beside long crossings through dunes the drivers will have to be careful on the stony tracks. The question, how the tires of the two-cylinder bikes will manage this torture, could become crucial for the outcome of tomorrow's stage.

-cvz-

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Giniel de Villiers , Ari Vatanen , Vicus van Deventer , Fabrizio Meoni , Alfie Cox