Dakar: South Africa drivers stage four report

Dakar is in Africa!! Although very short, today's first stage in Africa has definitely taken its toll on many of the competitors in the 2003 Telefonica Dakar. The exceptionally slippery track took the first African casualty with Spaniard Garcia ...

Dakar is in Africa!! Although very short, today's first stage in Africa has definitely taken its toll on many of the competitors in the 2003 Telefonica Dakar. The exceptionally slippery track took the first African casualty with Spaniard Garcia Mochales (Honda - N.129) suffered a double arm fracture and was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Tunis.

Top South African contender for the day was Giniel de Villiers and his French navigator Pascal Maimon of the Nissan Team who finished fifth overall, a marginal 50 seconds behind Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret who won the stage. The good news is that De Villiers is now second overall, 01' 23" behind the leaders. The young Cape Tonian is showing his more experienced teammates the way at present, but he is followed closely by Ari Vatanen (Finland) and Tina Thorner (Germany) who find themselves in fourth place overall with the second Hardbody, only 11 seconds slower than De Villiers.

Giniel De Villiers and Pascal Maimon.
Photo by Nissan Europe.
The five South African developed red Nissan Hardbodys are currently in 2nd, 4th, 9th, 11th and 20th positions overall. De Villiers was quite confident yesterday and felt that the real race in Africa will definitely be a massive challenge, but at the same time an excellent opportunity to prove how rugged the Nissans were and how well they were engineered.

Although Alfie Cox of the Gauloises Natro Freight Nashua KTM Team only finished in twelfth place, he is fourth overall, only 01' 10" behind his French teammate Richard Sainct who has led the race from the start. This may however be a tactical move on the part of Cox. The start at tomorrow's stage splits the front 10 runners by two-minutes each and then competitors take off at one-minute intervals, which means that Cox takes off 22 minutes after the leaders. With riders such as Nani Roma (Spain), Richard Sainct (France), Cyril Despres (France), and Fabrizio Meoni (Italy) ahead, clear tracks will be laid on the route and dust trails will assist him to play "catch-up". The simple result being every person you catch means a minute or two gained on the leaders, known as the "leap-frog" technique and has cost Cox dearly in the past when other contenders managed to beat him by using this strategy.

The time split on the leaders, and his overall position going into Africa, has never been as good in previous Dakar races as it is this year. "I am confident that my strategy should work and I expect a good result on my 40th birthday, tomorrow," said a very bubbly Cox at the finish today. He continued: "Pity that we only have about 60km of real sand and dunes tomorrow, I would have preferred a longer dune test, but we do not have a refuel point in the stage, where one often loose time on other riders. My biggest gamble with the leapfrog strategy is dust. I cannot afford to get stuck behind other competitors, but I am also not prepared to go out blind and make an accident in the dust. I am really excited about tomorrow's stage and I trust that I will have a good birthday present".

Vicus van Deventer, the South African pilot on the Canadian DS 650 BAJA Bombardier quad dropped one place in the Overall Experimental Class today, after finishing third overall as a result of some technical glitch.

"All my problems are now sorted and I look forward to going faster and catching the leaders," said Van Deventer at the finish of today's long liaison stage to the first bivouac on-route.

Africa was relatively cold today with temperatures peaking at 20 degrees Celsius and it is expected to continue tomorrow. On Monday, 6 January 2003 (tomorrow) Stage 5, starts at Tozeur with a 133km liaison stage, taking competitors to the start of the 285km special stage, which is expected to be quite sandy. The first dune crossings, together with regular direction changes means a very busy day in the office and the testing of skills to the limit.

The stage finishes at El Borma after a 76km liaison. We are then in the East Sahara at the top oil production area in Tunisia. "Razor Teeth" is the direct translation of the name El Borma, and this may refer to the dunes near El Borma, with their sharp edges.

-cvz-

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Series Dakar
Drivers Stéphane Peterhansel , Giniel de Villiers , Ari Vatanen , Pascal Maimon , Tina Thorner , Vicus van Deventer , Cyril Despres , Alfie Cox , Richard Sainct , Nani Roma