Dakar 2017 – Final Report – Peterhansel, Sunderland win Dakar

Dakar 2017 is over – Stephane Peterhansel trailed Sebastien Loeb home to secure his second win on the trot, his seventh in cars and his thirteenth career Dakar win in all.

He beat Loeb by 5 minutes in a Peugeot 1-2-3 with Cyril Despres third, while Nani Roma ended fourth in his SA-built Toyota Hilux and Giniel de Villiers fought back from a dreadful first week to pinch fifth from Mini’s Orlando Terranova. Zim driver Conrad Rautenbach was the best rookie this year in 9th in the third Toyota.

Sam Sunderland meanwhile led home a KTM 1-2-3 to secure that brand’s 16th Dakar motorcycle victory in a row, from teammates Walkner and Farres Guell, but what could have been if Honda’s Barreda and Goncalves had not suffered one-hour penalties last week? They finished fifth and sixth and well inside an hour behind winner Sunderland.

But Dakar 2017 was more than just about the 64km trundle home on Saturday – it was a highly controversial race blighted by what can only be termed a navigational nightmare, while there are also lessons to be learned in how to better manage the race, next time the weather turns on the race as it did this year.

There were many stories to tell about Dakar 2017, but perhaps the simplest is just to take a look back and remember what went down over the past two weeks

Cars – Peterhansel trumps Loeb
The Dakar started well for South Africa – Qatari Nasser Al Attiyah stormed to victory for Toyota in the Prologue, with Spaniard Xavi Pons’ SA-built Ford second and countryman Nani Roma third in another Toyota from Peugeots Carlos Sainz fourth from SA hero Giniel de Villiers (Toyota).

Peugeot’s Sebastien Loeb then laid down the gauntlet on day 2, when he beat Al Attiyah, Sainz and de Villiers on the first real stage of the race, but all hell broke loose on Wednesday. First most of the field got lost to set a precedent that was to blight the rest of the race as the leaderboard came alive as it struggled to keep pace of all the position changes thanks to the growing number of car and bike crews lost on the stage.

There was a sting in the tail when Al Attiyah crashed out of the lead late Wednesday, to set off a series of catastrophes for Toyota, when de Villiers and Roma both lost time standing with issues on their Hiluxes. Then the fourth Hilux of Zim/SA duo Conrad Rautenbach and Rob Howie lost two hours assisting Al Attiyah, to leave Peterhansel to stroll through to victory from Sainz, Loeb and Mini man Mikko Hirvonen.

Friday proved just as controversial when Peugeot’s top three, Sainz, Peterhansel and Loeb all got lost to hand Cyril Despres his first ever car stage win from Hirvonen’s Mini and Roma’s Toyota with Peterhansel and Loeb next. But Dakar claimed another scalp when Carlos Sainz dramatically rolled his Peugeot out of the race late in the afternoon.

Friday’s stage was then shortened thanks to poor weather setting in to start a second trend that was to torment the Dakar alongside its navigational woes, but that did not dull the drama as Loeb fought Roma off for the win. Then Saturday was cancelled when the weather became even worse, so with Sunday being a rest day, Despres led into week 2 from Peterhansel, Hirvonen, Loeb and Roma.

Stephane Peterhansel bounced back to win Monday’s albeit shortened (the weather again!) Marathon Stage 7 from Loeb and de Villiers, who finally delivered a strong stage result following a frustrating opening week with Hirvonen and Roma next in, with no assistance allowed in the overnight bivouac. Loeb took a dominant, albeit once again shortened stage 8 win to take the lead from Peterhansel who ended second on the day; Despres, Hirvonen and de Villiers.

Then Wednesday’s stage was also cancelled and when racing resumed on Thursday, Dakar’s other 2017 gremlin, navigation raised its ugly head once again on a stage that organizers promised up front, would test crews pathfinding skills. It did, as most leading competitors lost their way and lesser rivals popped up on top of the time sheets, cars collided with bikes, trucks smashed into cars and pandemonium set in.

Petehansel somehow kept his trouble to a minimum to emerge the day’s winner and the overall leader, but only after being handed back the 14 minutes he had spent waiting for the ambulance helicopter to pick up the biker his Peugeot had knocked down in a riverbed. Loeb was second from Despres, Yazeed Al Rajhi’s Mini Terranova and de Villiers, who finished on three wheels after a puncture, while Rautenbach was a fine 8th.

In spite of all the navigation and weather issues, come Friday evening, Dakar 2017 still managed to deliver several intense battles that were set to go right down to the finish as Peterhansel defied the odds to stave off Loeb on the WRC stage and de Villiers fought Terranova off, while Rautenbach took control of the rookie dice.

That left Saturday’s short run to settle it and Peterhansel again matched Loeb to take the win with Despres cruising to third ahead of Roma and the battle behind, which de Villiers won to clinch fifth from Terranova.

So Stephane Peterhansel won his 16th Dakar and his second in a row for Peugeot as he led teammates Loeb and Despres home to a dominant Dakar 2017 clean sweep.

It was a tough Dakar for Toyota, which switched back to its trusty 4×4 Hiluxes very late in the preparation as it continues to develop its radical Peugeot rival. The team had its issues and lost its pace man early on, but the Gazoo Toyota South African team fought back hard to see Roma come home fourth, de Villiers charging back to fifth and Rautenbach recovering from his charity to take very well deserved rookie honours in eighth.

Mini’s Orlando Terranova fought gamely in his chase of de Villiers, but he settled for sixth in the end, while the truck race saw Russian Edoard Nikolaiev and his crew storm to victory in the final stage to seal the overall win for Kamaz.

Bikes – Slowly, slowly catch the monkey
The bike race was more straightforward in the end, Sunderland rode a clever and keen race to lead into the second week as he edged away from perhaps far quicker combinations to lead a KTM 1-2-3 in spite of Hondas winning most of the stages, only to lose the race on a penalty.

Looking back on the bike race, there was a surprise as French Viscount Xavier de Soultrait beat Sherco TVS-mounted Juan Pedrero Garcia to the prologue win, but Soultrait was penalised for speeding in a village and Garcia took the stage. Day 2 saw 2016 winner, Aussie Toby Price stamp his authority to win from Austrian KTM teammate Matthias Walkner and Portuguese Honda rider Paulo Goncalves.

Day 3 saw Barreda win after Price and most of the other bikes also got lost, but the Aussie then crashed out, breaking his leg. But Barreda and the rest of the Hondas were penalised for refuelling outside of the designated area to hand the stage win – and the overall lead to Brit Sam Sunderland on his KTM.

After the weekend off, Honda’s US star Ricky Brabec beat Pablo Quintanilla’s Husqvarna to Monday’s stage win as Sunderland continued to lead. Through all of this, Southern African quartet David Thomas, Vince Crosbie, Walter Terblanche and Para to Dakar hero Vince Crosbie were reduced to two after Thomas crashed and Terblanche succumbed to fuel issues.

Barreda added yet another stage win to Honda’s tally on Thursday, but Friday was chaotic once again as the bikes that started 25th, 17th, 19th and 22nd were the top four through waypoint 3, first away Barreda sat 12th; second starter Walkner 15th and race leader Sunderland 16th. Barreda somehow bounced back to win the stage after Brabec’s bike failed; Quintanilla retired sick and Sunderland had a shocking day, but still doubled his overall lead over Walkner, Farres Guell and French rider Adrien van Beveren, whose Yamaha threatened to interfere with a KTM 1-2-3 overall.

Guell and van Beveren tied for the last stage win to ensure Sunderland led Walkner and Guell home to that 1-2-3 on KTM’s
16th win in succession, with Beveren fourth and Barreda and Goncalves both within an hour of Sunderland overall. What could have been for Honda!

Botswana’s Vince Crosbie and his KTM ended up a brilliant 36th overall on his Dakar debut, while Joey Evans pulled off the impossible to finish his first Dakar in 93rd overall. The South African was rendered paraplegic in a race accident ten years ago, but he fought back from that crippling injury to not just ride the Dakar on a motorcycle, but to finish the race at his first attempt. A truly heroic tale.

Homework, attention required
At the end of the day, Dakar 2017 will be remembered for being the race where Stephane Peterhansel overcame Sebastien Loeb to score an epic win in a Peugeot 1-2-3, Mr. Dakar’s second win in a Peugeot; his seventh in a car and quite incredibly his 13th overall.

Toyota has some homework to do to beat the mighty French team – it is well under way to doing so with its radical new Hilux ‘buggy’, but the answer to a complete package may well lie under the bonnet of Terranova’s Mini that Roma and de Villiers beat to sixth.

Toyota does not have a suitable turbodiesel in its present engine range, but that Mini has BMW’s latest quad-turbo diesel engine and since BMW and Toyota are sharing so much other tech these days, how much of a stretch of the imagination would it be for Toyota SA to build, say 100 or 250 Hiluxes powered by that potent BMW engine?

Like that, Toyota would be free to run that engine in its new Dakar car – and so be able to match the Peugeot, which the current V8 Hilux simply cannot match when racing at the Dakar’s oxygen depleted heights, where its V8 so badly suffers, no matter how high the altitude gets. Never mind creating perhaps the most desirable pickup truck in history at the same time.

But this 2017 race will also be remembered as the Dakar of the navigation nightmare, the rain and the cancellation and curtailing of so many stages. Those are the issues that Dakar organizers need to pay desperate attention to – otherwise this great race could well become history..