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On Saturday, 13 January 2024, the 46th edition of the Dakar Rally – the fifth taking place in Saudi Arabia – reached the halfway mark after racing for seven days totaling just over 4 100 kilometers of which 2 300 kilometers were against the clock, competitors reached Riyadh for a well-deserved Rest Day and a quick glimpse to the current standings shows that the South African competitors and the various SA manufactured vehicles have been producing impressive performances.

The 2024 Dakar Rally started on Friday, 5 January with a 27km Prologue that determined the starting order for Stage One which consisted of 414 kilometers of racing, and it was clear from the start the race organisers, ASO, were serious when they stated that teams will feel the heat from the start. The first week also included a Marathon Stage as well as the much talked about 48 Hour Chrono Stage on Thursday and Friday, 11 and 12 January where competitors had to complete a total of 758 grueling kilometres over two days in the desert section known as the Empty Quarter. Some 549 kilometers were timed with rugged overnight camping facilities at any of the numerous bivouacs in the desert, reminding the more seasoned competitors of the old days when participating in Africa.

The figures show that 38 of the 72 cars entered in the Dakar Rally this year, were built in South Africa. There are 23 Toyota Hilux vehicles, 12 Century Racing vehicles, three from Red-Lined Motorsport as well as two Ford Rangers. In the Ultimate Car Category, 12 South Africans are either driving or navigating.

At the halfway mark, multiple former winners, Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Team Audi Sport) are the overall leaders of the Ultimate Car Category. They are 20 minutes and 21 seconds ahead of their Swedish team-mates, Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist with Frenchman, Sebastian Loeb and Fabian Lurquin third, just under 30 minutes behind the leaders.

Toyota Gazoo Racing have five teams in the field that include the former winner and one of the most experienced drivers, Giniel de Villiers who has his regular navigator, Dennis Murphy next to him, to the youngest works-driver, the 18-year-old Saood Variawa. The rest of the SA teams consists of multiple SA Rally Champion, Guy Botterill who is competing in his first Dakar Rally with multiple former SA navigator’s champion, Brett Cummings who has competed in this event on two and four wheels. They are joined by the French navigator, Francois Cazalet who reads the notes for Variawa; the Brazilian, Lucas Moraes and his Spanish navigator, Armand Monleon as well as the American, Seth Quintero and his German navigator, Dennis Zenz.

And at the halfway mark, three of the teams are in the overall top 10 with Moraes/Monleon currently fourth, just over an hour behind the leaders, Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Audi). The team won Stage Three to claim a maiden stage win for the TGR’s new GR Hilux Evo. During Stage Five, Moraes suffered severely from motion sickness and rolled the vehicle in the process while stopping in the dunes.

De Villiers/Murphy have moved to sixth place, an hour and 25 minutes behind the leaders, after mainly losing time with punctures – like many teams who even ran out of spare tyres – while Botterill, currently the leading Rookie, and Cummings have worked their way up to eighth overall.

It is also an all-new experience for the young Variawa who only started competing in the SA Rally-Raid Championship during 2023. The teams have all had their share of bad luck and mechanical issues and Variawa/Cazalet are currently 21st. Quintero/Zenz, who were second fastest after the Prologue, were hit by mechanical problems that saw them losing time having to wait for their service truck during Stage Four. They are 45th.

Two Ford Performance M-Sport Rangers, built and prepared by Neil Woolridge Motorsport, are also competing in the Ultimate Car Category piloted by the newly crowned SARR champions, Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer and former winner on two and four wheels, Spaniard, Nani Roma and navigator, Alex Haro.

It has been a huge learning curve for Woolridge/Dreyer who are also competing as Rookies. They are currently 41st, but their time includes a 15-hour penalty due to them finishing late on Stage Four after having to wait for their assistance truck with spares to repair suspension damage.

Roma/Haro are 12th overall after a consistent outing.

Century Racing has no less than 12 cars in the field with the South African crew of Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer flying in the only four-wheel drive CR 7. The team, however, were forced to miss two stages while waiting for spare parts to arrive from South Africa and find themselves in 47th place. They posted the 10th fastest time after the Prologue.

The French team of Mathieu Serradori/Loic Minaudier are the best performing CR team and are ninth overall after completing most stages within the top 10. The team, competing with the CR6-T, suffered clutch issues during the massive 48 Hour Chrono Stage, but survived, albeit dropping from fifth to ninth in the overall standings.

Although there are no South African competitors behind the wheel of Red-Lined Motorsport’s REVO T1+ vehicles at this year’s Dakar Rally, the outfit had three teams on the start line of the event a week ago. The 19 year-old lady driver, Aliyyah Koloc, who participated on occasions during 2023 in SA, is 35th together with her navigator, Sebastian Delaunay despite suspension problems while Stefan Carmans/Arjan van Tiel who also put in an appearance in South Africa are 40th.

The Chinese crew, Wei Han, who has competed in the Dakar Rally five times previously and Li Ma, were 20th overall, but mechanical issues as well as motion sickness saw them dropping back.

Things did not all go according to plan for Hennie de Klerk/Juan Möhr (TreasuryONE Motorsport Hilux) who started on the back foot after being hit with a Prologue penalty that saw them starting at the back of the field. They struggled with propshaft and mechanical issues and are currently 58th in the Ultimate Car Category.

“We are extremely proud of all the South African competitors, teams and technical crew who are braving the very tough 2024 Dakar conditions. We wish them the very best of luck in the closing week of this highly revered event”, said SA Rally-Raid Championship CEO Archie Rutherford.

The 2024 Dakar Rally will resume on Sunday, 14 January, with a total of just over 3 700 kilometres awaiting competitors before it ends on Friday, 19 January at Yanbu.

Published by: SA Cross Country Series – Charmaine Fortune

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