Dakar 2017 may have been controversial over its epic two weeks as competitors struggled with navigation and the weather, which saw to it that a quarter of the race distance was canned, but the race is proving to be a brilliant fight as several intense battles are set to go right down to the finish today.
Not least of those is the war for the overall car win as French Peugeot teammates Peterhansel and Loeb head into today’s final stage separated by just five and a half minutes, although ‘Peter’ delivered a compelling performance yesterday to all but match his illustrious teammate on a WRC-like stage to go into the final day with a 5:32 advantage.
The pair fought hard through Friday with Loeb establishing an advantage to halve Stephane Peterhansel’s lead in the morning and head into the ‘WRC-like’ closing section most expected to better suit WRC legend Sebastien Loeb, but Mr Dakar still clawed back those two and a half minutes to all but match his compatriot in what has to be seen as ‘Mr. Dakar’s finest hour.
That’s a comfortable advantage compared to SA hero Giniel de Villiers, who sets off on the 64km remaining towards Buenos Aires in fifth overall today behind Cyril Despres’ third Peugeot and Proudly South African Toyota teammate, Spaniard Nani Roma. Stellenbosch driver Giniel may have come back brilliantly following a tougher than average first week, but he has local hero, Argentinian Orlando Terranova’ Mini breathing down his neck just 2:01 behind.
Friday was a big day for Zimbabwe driver Conrad Rautenbach and SA navigator Rob Howie’s Toyota after yesterday’s retirement of arch rival Sheikh Al Qassimi of Dubai left the Hilux in ninth overall and clear to cruise home as the best rookies in this year’s race this afternoon. Rautenbach and Quassimi had fought gamely throughout the past fortnight, seldom much more than a minute apart.
Bikes – Sixteen-up for KTM?
Austrian specialist motorcycle manufacturer is quite incredibly on the verge of its 16th Dakar victory in a row, with Brit Sam Sunderland set for a dominant half-hour victory over Austrian teammate Matthias Walkner, but while Spain’s Gerard Farres Guell currently sits third, a KTM whitewash is no guarantee after minute’s penalty for Frenchman Adrein van Beveren yesterday is all that kept his Yamaha behind Guell as the two of them head into the final 64km separated by all of 48 seconds.
Spain’s Joan Barreda won yet another special stage for Honda on Friday after being given three minutes back after he was slowed by spectators, to dispose Portuguese teammate Paulo Goncalves to second. Van Beveren was third from Guell, while local hero Franco Caimi rode home eighth to consolidate his position as the leading bike rookie.
Botswana’s Vince Crosbie enjoyed another brilliant stage result yesterday to end 28th and move up to 35th overall on his KTM, but he also has a fight on his hands, with the Bolivian Fuentes just 23 seconds behind overall, while South Africa’s Para to Dakar hero Joey Evans had reached Friday’s fifth waypoint in 91st position as we wrote. Vasbyt Joey!
Russia’s Sergey Kariyakin has made the quads his own this year as he reeled off another stage win on Friday to consolidate his Yamaha’s solid hour and a quarter advantage, while compatriot Edoard Nikolaiev consolidated his advantage over Kamaz teammate Sotnikov with another truck stage win Friday. South African mechanic Sean Berriman riding with German Behringer in a MAN truck ended 25th on Saturday.
Only 64km of this tricky Dakar remains today, with the bikes due to start at 11h16 and the cars at 13h48 – follow the final stage live on www.motorsportmedia.co.za.