Collin Matiza Sports Editor
ACE Zimbabwean motor rally driver Conrad Rautenbach was yesterday among three competitors from Southern Africa who stole the show during an exciting Day Two of the 2020 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia.
According to reports from Saudi Arabia, in a sensational second day of Dakar 2020, Southern African competitors Ross Branch of Botswana, South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and Rautenbach of Zimbabwe took a historic hat-trick of wins in the motorcycle, car and side by side classes.
Zimbabwe’s Graeme Sharp (KTM) rode in 77th place in the motorbike section yesterday.
Botswana motorcycle hero and multiple South African Cross Country champion Branch stormed home to a sensational and historic maiden Dakar stage win on his KTM, while 2009 SA Dakar winner de Villiers had a far better day to win the car race in his South African-built Gazoo Racing Toyota Hilux.
It was also a strong day for Zimbabwean and ex-South Africa rally champion Rautenbach, who fought for the Side by Side class lead in another day of surprises as the race sped to Neom in Saudi Arabia.
PH Sport driver Rautenbach (35) rose from a 13th place start to sixth, third and second before taking the side-by-side class lead from Spaniard Hinojo Lopez and then becoming immersed in a five-way fight for the win into the final sector.
Rautenbach, navigated by Portuguese Pedro Bianchi Prata in a PH Sport’s Zephyr for its first Dakar Rally entry, first saw himself lying in ninth place at the end of Stage One of the Dakar Rally on the opening day of this tortuous marathon on Sunday before he upped his game yesterday to finish in third place at the end of Stage Two.
Competing in the the SSV Category, Rautenbach fought to third place in the Side by Side Class behind winner Chilean Lopes Contardo and two seconds adrift of Spain’s second-placed Lopes.
Yesterday’s Stage Two of the Dakar Rally was a 367km stage from Al Wajh to the desert city of Neom and Zimbabwe’s Rautenbach was among the front-runners in the SSV Category and he did not disappoint as he came out unscathed to claim a place on the podium as he emulated Botswana’s Branch who won his stage in the motorbike section.
Branch (KTM) won his first stage ever of the event. He’s the first winner from Africa since the last in the series was Alfie Cox from South Africa in 2003 (who picked up 8 specials in total), whilst Franco-Malian Alain Duclos won in his hometown of Bamako in 2006, then again in 2014 in Argentina.
In the car class, South Africa’s de Villiers, navigated by Alex Haro from Spain in a Toyota Hilux, won his first stage victory on the Dakar in Saudi Arabia, thanks to a faultless special, whereas most of his rivals struggled with the complicated navigation.
Rautenbach’s fellow Zimbabwean, Sharp, who is making his debut appearance at the Dakar Rally, finished Stage One on Sunday in 92nd place before pushing himself to 77th position at the end of the day yesterday.
Sharp (33) is attempting to become the first Zimbabwean to finish the Dakar Rally on a motorbike and the past few days have been a whirlwind of activity for him.
After completing a shakedown (test of the bike) and scrutineering, Sharp then enjoyed an exciting starters’ podium ceremony where he proudly flew the Zimbabwean flag on Sunday.
The opening stage was 752km and “far from a stroll in the park”. It featured varied terrain from fast to winding, dunes to stones.
And in Sharp’s words Day One on Sunday was, “Good to get through Stage One with no issues! Was a tough stage with huge amount of rocks in dry riverbeds, lots of dust and few dune sections. Was a fun stage – 752km all up and we were home by 4:30pm after a 5:20 departure this am”.
Meanwhile, Argentine driver Orlando Terranova led the Dakar Rally after the second stage in Saudi Arabia yesterday while double Formula One champion Fernando Alonso smashed his Toyota on a rock and fell hours behind.
Alonso was running fourth in his Hilux pickup after 100km but the Dakar debutant was then sidelined with suspension damage and a broken wheel on the 367km stage from Al Wajh to the desert city of Neom.
The Spaniard, with co-driver and five-time Dakar winner Marc Coma, had been 11th overnight but plunged down the standings as they waited for an assistance truck.
The pair finally got moving again after a two and a half hour delay.
Terranova, driving a Mini, finished second in the stage won by Toyota’s South African Giniel De Villiers to carve out a lead of four minutes and 43 seconds over Spaniard Carlos Sainz in a Mini buggy.
“It was very tricky, especially towards the end when we lost a lot of minutes. We had trouble finding our way and had to turn back two times, 3km back and forwards. It was tricky, but at least there were no punctures today,” Sainz told reporters yesterday.
Defending champion Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar was in third place for Toyota and six minutes off the lead. De Villiers, winner in 2009, moved up to sixth overall but 12 minutes behind Terranova.
Lithuanian Vaidotas Zala, the overnight leader in a Mini, dropped to fifth.
Today’s third Dakar Saudi Arabia stage comprises a 427km loop around Neom.