Dakar Final Day Report: Sainz wins, Alonso 13th

Dakar 2020 will ultimately be remembered for Carlos Sainz senior winning his third race in a third different make of car, Ricky Brabec taking his first bike win and Honda’s first since 1989 and also for the loss of the life of bike hero Paulo Gonçalves.

Spain’s former double world rally champion, 57-year-old Sainz added a third Dakar win aboard his Mini buggy to his 2010 Volkswagen and 2018 Peugeot victories. He beat Qatari 2019 winner Nasser Al Attiyah’s South African built and run factory Gazoo Racing Toyota Hilux and former 13-time Dakar winner on two and four wheels, Stephane Peterhansel’s Mini after that pair started the final day split by just six seconds.

Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi (Hilux) came home fourth ahead of South Africa’s former Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers (Gazoo SA Hilux), the consistent Argentine Orlando Terranova (Mini AWD) and Dutch driver Bernhard Ten Brinke (Gazoo SA Hilux), while Dakar rookie winner, former double F1 world champion and 2-time Le Mans 24-hour winner Fernando Alonso ended 13th overall after rolling his Gazoo SA Hilux among several other adventures over the past two weeks.

Giniel de Villiers added another stage win to his incredible Dakar CV on day 2, but he had to work hard to overcome several punctures and a few navigation issues early on with punctures set to be another point to remember in the early days of this year’s race. Dakar 2020 was also a great race for tiny Johannesburg race car maker Century after Frenchman Mattieu Serradori took the team’s first ever Dakar day win en route to a splendid 8th overall aboard the Corvette-powered machine in a truly giant-killing performance.

It was a tough but rewarding race for Kyalami-based Red-Lined Motoring Adventures, which ran a pair of Nissan Navaras for gentleman crews, but Dakar delivered a poisonous sting in the tail to TreasuryOne duo, 2018 Dakar Rookie of the Year Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger racing out of Pretoria who started 27th in Friday’s final stage off a fine week following a difficult start, only to be left stranded within spitting distance of the finish with transmission failure. They duly made it to the finish to claim 34th overall, two places ahead of their Dubai based British teammates Thomas Bell and Patrick McMurren.

A relatively new Dakar class, the side-by-side vehicles delivered a thrilling race throughout with positions changing by the waypoint literally throughout the two weeks, but American Casey Currie driving with SA lad Sean Berriman now racing on a US licence, managed to be most consistent to take an ultimately easy win over Russian Sergei Kariakin, Chilean Francisco Lopez Contardo and Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach.

Honda breaks 31-year Dakar duck

It was a big Dakar for Honda as Californian Brabec stormed home to a crucial Dakar motorcycle win for Honda in not only its first Dakar win in 31 years but Brabec also finally broke KTM’s 18-year stranglehold on Dakar bike wins and made good the huge disappointment of Honda losing the two previous editions after dominating much of the way each time.

Chilean Husqvarna rider Pablo Quintanilla was second from last year’s winner Toby Price (KTM), while Chilean Jose Ignacio Cornejo Flormino (Honda) took the final day win to jump to fourth ahead of KTM pair, Austrian Matthias Walkner and Argentine Luciano Benavides.

Several Southern African bikers delivered heroic Dakar rides, not least Botswana’s former triple SA champion Ross Branch, who riding as a privateer, took a stunning Day 2 win and rode most of the way well within the top ten on his own KTM against the might of the factory teams.

A few challenges along the way including a big fall and riding with a separated shoulder and severed fingertip and then an epic effort to get his machine to the finish of another stage in spite of a destroyed rear wheel, dropped him well down the order but still the plucky privateer fought back 21st as he put his hand up high for consideration as a future factory rider.

The Russian Kamaz army dominated the truck race as Andrey Karginov thundered home to clinch the overall win over teammate Anton Shibalov with Belarusian driver Siarhey Viazovich third in a MAZ, while Chilean Ignacio Casale won the Dakar quad race from Frenchman Stefan Vitse.

This Dakar 2020 coverage was brought to you by TreasuryOne Motorsport, Red-Lined Motoring Adventure and Motorsport Media

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Alonso: Good pace, confident and improving

Fernando Alonso looks back on his first six days tackling the Dakar Rally – the world’s toughest motorsport event – confident that he is improving with every outing while he recovers admirably from a day two setback that cost him nearly three hours in the Saudi Arabian desert.

Nevertheless, the Dakar rookie, who is sharing a Gazoo Racing Toyota with off-road legend Marc Coma in the co-drivers seat, has since the incident been on a charge from 63rd climbing up to 16th at the halfway mark, albeit 3.08 hours behind the leader Carlos Sainz senior.

On Friday, ahead of the rest day, he finished sixth, 7.56 minutes behind stage winner Stephane Peterhansel – notably only four minutes adrift of the best placed Toyota Gazoo Racing Entry of defending champion Nasser Al Attiyah at the end of the gruelling 830km stage.

Ahead of the rest day, Alonso told reporters, “Today has gone well again, with good feelings and good rhythm. We were fast again and in the top six.

“Removing the three cars in front [trio of Minis] which are in another league, being the third-best of the Toyotas has been a nice surprise. We had no problems, no punctures or anything. This rest stage comes at a good time.

“As I said in the first few days, visibility is essential. If it’s good, you are always constant and in rhythm with the leaders, but if you fall too far behind and there is dust there are some ‘waypoints’ in which you have to lift a lot

“It’s all new to me, at this level you have different challenges, such as the behaviour of the car at the beginning and then at the end, you go out with more than 400 litres of gasoline and you end up with 30 or 40, so there is a huge difference.

“You drive on sandy terrain, on gravel, on stones, on asphalt … so the level of grip is very unstable and you have to adapt to every kilometre. Visibility… There have been six stages in which we have passed a bit of everything and each of these challenges is new to me, but I try to learn as quickly as possible.

“In 500 km there are many things that happen and not always obvious. I am glad to have had four good days after the problem we had. In general, good pace, confident and gradually improving.

After the second day’s broken wheel mishap, which cost Alonso nearly three hours, it has been all upwardly mobile for the #310 Toyota as they bounced back impressively, “I don’t know why but I gound a better rhythm in the dunes.

“Marc, with his experience in the dunes, is always advising me, he also understands how the race is evolving, which are the dunes in which you have to slow down or where you have to climb a little more.

“And on the stones, the Toyotas have had many problems this first week, we have punctured two or three wheels each day, and that has been a very big penalty especially if you drop down the order.”

Meanwhile, at the sharp end, his good friend and fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz leads in a Mini at the halfway mark, seven minutes ahead of Alonso’s Gazoo Racing teammate Nasser Al Attiyah in a Toyota.

“Spectacular, but there is no surprise in that regard,” remarked Alonso of Sainz’s run. “We know that Carlos is one of the best and I am very happy that he is leading. Half the race remains but he seems to have everything in hand.”

As for the remainder of the rally and his own chances, he said, “We will see how hard the second week will be. The Dakar is normally unpredictable but at the moment, in this one, nothing is really happening among the top six.

“If things start to happen during the second week and we continue at this rate, we could quickly recover two or three positions in one stage and get into the top three, but if nothing happens at the front it is difficult,” Alonso added.

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