Dakar 2020 marred by the death of a competitor

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Both photos: https://www.dakar.com/en/stage-12/car/gallery/image

Twelve gruelling stages of gravel, sand, dunes and extremely difficult navigation in some of the most barren and desolate desert areas is what the first Saudi Arabia Dakar dished up for competitors who raced 5000km and covered a total distance of 7500km when the liaison stages are included. Their average distance daily was around 625km of which an average of 417km was at maximum speed with terrain changes, blind dunes and navigation way-points to find.
In stage 7, forty year old biker, Paulo Goncalves from Portugal, lost his life, on the longest Special Stage of the 2020 Dakar race between Riyadh and Wadi Al Dawasir. He was competing in his 13th Dakar and has many racing wins and achievements behind his name including runner-up in the 2015 Dakar and cross-country world champion in 2013. The first person to arrive at the scene was KTM Australian Toby Price and very shortly after former team-mate to Goncalves, Honda rider Kevin Benavides (Argentina) who tried in vain to help the badly injured Portuguese rider. Goncalves is the first competitor to die in the Dakar since Michal Hernik in 2015. A memorial service was held at the bivouac and the stage 8 bike and quad race was cancelled in respect and memory of Goncalves.
Somewhat different to many of the races in South America, competitors did not have a stage or 2 for settling in; it was difficult from the outset. The dunes and sand took one back a few years because that is close the conditions of the Paris-Dakar in the Sahara Desert in Africa.
Spain’s Carlos Sainz, or El-Matador as the fraternity knows him, in a X-Raid Mini, secured victory in the car category of the 2020 Dakar Rally for the third time, finishing over six minutes clear of his nearest rival Nasser al-Attiyah from Qatar who drove a South African built Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux. The 57-year old finished ahead of Al-Attiyah and his team-mate, 13-time Dakar winner, Frenchman, Stephane Peterhansel to add to his titles in 2010 and 2018. Sainz, father of McLaren F1 driver Carlos Sainz Jr, won four of the 12 stages and led all the way since stage three.
Stellenbosch based Giniel de Villiers in another Hilux finished fifth, with Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke in seventh place and the fourth member of the Toyota Hilux team, Spaniard Fernando Alonso, F1 and Le-Mans Champion, finishing in 13th place on his Dakar debut.
De Villiers had a low incident race barring the first stage when the Toyota Gazoo Team lost 11 tyres on the four Hilux’s. He won the second stage, struggled with navigation in the third stage. In stage 10 he finished in 3rd place on the first of 2 marathon days to move up into 5th overall.
Alonso’s achievement is magnificent if you keep in mind that he never raced off-road or cross-country in his life, let alone acquire the skill to race in dunes. Furthermore, on day 2 he hit a big hole in the dust of another car, broke the right front suspension, waited for his support team, finished in 63rd place on the stage and dropped down to 48th position overall. On day 3 he bounced back, finishing 4th on the day and moving up to position 32. He then raced back up the ranks to 10th place overall after stage 9, only to lose a lot of time a while after he barrel rolled the Hilux down a dune in stage 10, smashing the front window, finishing the day in 56th place and dropping back to 13th place. His presence of mind and true racing commitment was clear when they landed back on their wheels after the roll in stage 10. He immediately restarted the car and raced away as if there was no incident, which only experience and instinct of a true racing driver enables competitors to do. They were later forced to stop, remove the windscreen and they finished the stage with goggles to protect their eyes.
America’s Ricky Brabec on a Honda re-wrote quite a few history books to become the first non-KTM winner of the Dakar since 2000. He took the overall lead when he won stage 3 and secured his lead with another stage win in the 6th. He was 2nd in 3 stages. Honda previously won the Dakar from 1986 to 1989.
Since 2009 when quads became an official category in Dakar, one manufacturer, Yamaha, has won all the events. Ignacio Casale from Chile took his third win after his 2014 and 2018 victories. He led the race from day 1 and kept the stronghold right to the finish.
The SSV category competed in the Dakar since 2017. Polaris and Can-Am dominate this category and American Casey Carrie proudly carried the Can-Am brand. After a 2nd place in stage 7 he took over the top position and kept it to the finish of the race.
This year the Monsters of the Desert, the truck category, was completely dominated by the
Russian Kamaz teams, who managed an average speed in the latter part of the event, of 109km/h in the dunes. Truck 511, Andrey Karginov (Driver), Andrey Mokeev (Navigator) and Igor Leonov (Technician) won 7 stages and controlled the race from the front since stage 4. They finished 42 minutes ahead of their closest rivals and team-mates.
Next week we can look at the 10 Southern African competitors and their achievements. – Coen van Zyl

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