Dakar Rally – SA Team Hilux in 7th position after two gruelling dune sea stages
The South African Hilux team of Eben Basson and Leander Pienaar trained in Namibia’s dune sea in December before tackling the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia. After completing two particularly challenging stages in the so-called Empty Quarter, the team now lies in 7th position overall.
“We had a brief taste of what to expect during a short visit to Namibia early in December,” said Basson shortly before departing for the Empty Quarter. “It was good preparation for what was to come, but nothing can really prepare you for the real deal. It’s a different story the moment you put your helmet on and take on the best drivers in the world, as well as the challenges the Arabian desert has to offer.”
The #TeamHiluxRally-Raid crew not only had to get used to the tough conditions they encountered at Dakar 2023, but they also had to learn how to get to grips with their G Rally Team OT3 Lightweight Prototype race car. “We don’t have any experience of driving in a sea of sand dunes, and before coming to Dakar we’ve never driven the OT3 car either,” said Pienaar. “It’s proven to be a rude awakening, but we’re loving every moment of it. It’s tough, but that’s exactly what the Dakar is all about and although we still have to make it to the end, I’m already looking forward to coming back again.”
The South Africans have given a good account of themselves so far after setting a few top 5 stage times and occupying 7th on the general classifications going into the final 4 stages. Stages 11 and 12 comprised the so-called marathon stage where competitors had to venture deep into the Empty Quarter before returning to the bivouac near Shaybah the following day.
And they had to go at it alone as their support crews and team members were banned from the makeshift bivouac in the desert leaving it up to the crews and fellow competitors to look after themselves and each other.
That was what Basson and Pienaar did on the first leg of the marathon. G Rally teammates Guillaume de Mevius and co-driver Cazalet were at the top of the general classification heading into the marathon, but the Belgian driver ran into difficulty when they experienced a technical problem. The South Africans were quick to stop at their stricken teammates to lend a hand where they could, but unfortunately for De Mevius, he ended up dropping from first to third on the overall rankings. As a result, Basson and Pienaar also lost a few minutes on the day when they crossed the finish line with the 15th fastest time on the stage. It was however still good enough to maintain their 7th position on the overall standings.