Mixed South African fortunes in Dakar

South African off-road champion co-driver Ralph Pitchford became only the second South African (after defending Dakar champion Giniel de Villiers) to win a stage (in a car) on the world’s toughest motor race, when he and American driver Mark Miller won the fifth stage of the Dakar Rally in Chile in their Volkswagen Race Touareg.

It was the longest stage of the 2010 Dakar – 483 km in the Atacama Desert between Copiapo and the coastal Pacific town of Antofagasta – with Miller and Pitchford being the fifth different winners in as many stages since the 9 000km marathon started in Buenos Aires in Argentina on January 1.

Other South Africans aren’t faring as well though. South Africa’s Dakar legend, Alfie Cox, and his German co-driver Jürgen Schr?der were lying fifth overall in the car category in their Nissan Overdrive Navara, after consistent performances in the first four stages. But a damaged engine after crashing into a ravine on stage five has forced them to retire.

Meanwhile defending champions Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz are currently in 18th position, 3h 50min 47sec behind Sainz, after a disastrous stage three. They also lost time on stage five between Copiapo and Antofagasta, completing the stage in 17th place, 55min 34sec behind Miller and Pitchford. Yet they have moved up another two places in the overall rankings to 18th.

“It seems like we are attracting bad luck this year. For Dirk and me, helping the team as much as possible is definitely all that counts from here on. Our objective now is to finish in the top three. There is still a long way to go and I am confident we can do that,” said Giniel.

Race leaders at the start of the stage, Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret of France, were delayed for more than two hours when they stopped twice with transmission problems on their BMW X3. They are now 10th overall and 2h 4min 49sec behind the leading Volkswagen after they finished Wednesday’s stage in 33rd place, 2h 14min 35sec behind Miller and Pitchford.

Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz of Spain are currently the overall leaders of the race.

The route heads north today for stage six, which takes the surviving competitors from Antofagasta to Iquique on the Pacific coast and comprises 180km of liaison before 418km of racing. An African type “erg” – an area of shifting sand dunes – awaits the drivers in mid-stage, which is generally very fast but includes a sandy section of some 50km and ends with a three kilometre sandy downhill to Iquique.

Overall Results for Cars after Special Stage 5
Pos. N° Name Make Time Variation Penalty
1 303
SAINZ (ESP) VOLKSWAGEN 16:10:51 00:00:00
2 306
AL-ATTIYAH (QAT) VOLKSWAGEN 16:15:28 00:04:37
3 305
MILLER (USA) VOLKSWAGEN 16:20:30 00:09:39
4 302
GORDON (USA) HUMMER 17:10:46 00:59:55
5 314
SOUSA (PRT) MITSUBISHI 17:24:13 01:13:22
6 308
HOLOWCZYC (POL) Nissan Overdrive 17:27:09 01:16:18
7 312
NEVES (BRA) VOLKSWAGEN 17:31:01 01:20:10
8 307
CHICHERIT (FRA) BMW 17:38:32 01:27:41
9 322
SPINELLI (BRA) MITSUBISHI 17:48:39 01:37:48
10 301
PETERHANSEL (FRA) BMW 18:15:40 02:04:49