It was tough start to the 2014 Dakar for the South African teams on the 809-kilometre opening Dakar stage from Rosario to San Luis in Argentina.
Lucio Alvarez / Ronnie Graue (308) and Chris Visser / Japie Badenhorst (329) from Team Ford Racing set off from Rosario just after 6 am, covering the lengthy 405 km road section before the start of the special stage in the region of Cordoba. The 180 km competitive section was extremely rocky and narrow, throwing the teams into the thick of it right from the start, with searing 36-degree heat adding to the challenge.
Unfortunately Alvarez/Graue encountered problems with their Ranger’s throttle body on the engine 100 km into the stage. They had to fit a spare unit before they were able to continue.
This cost the Argentine pair approximately two hours, but they managed to complete the remaining stage and 224 km liaison to the bivouac in San Luis without further problems. The total stage time of 4 hr 25 min 44 sec saw them finish 2 hr 5 min 8 sec behind stage winners Carlos Sousa and Miguel Ramalho (Haval).
Visser/Badenhorst were running as high as ninth at the stage’s first waypoint, a mere 43 sec behind the leader. However they were sidelined when the wheel nuts sheared off the front right hub, and they had to wait for the team’s T4 race truck to arrive to conduct repairs.
They managed to finish the stage, but lost a significant 4 hr 34 min 38 sec to the front-runners.
Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz in their Toyota Hilux also had a difficult start. The pair started in third spot, but thanks to power-steering problems due to a leaking fitting on the hydraulic jack, they lost a significant amount of time. They didn’t need to stop, but the problem reduced their speed significantly, and they forced to negotiate the final 50km without steering assistance. They eventually finished 27th in the provisional results.
The Hilux of Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie had a better start to the day. They started off in 23rd spot, but thanks to some excellent driving, they eventually finished 9th.
South African privateers Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr, competing in their first Dakar Rally after winning the Dakar Challenge in Botswana in 2013, finished 49th after starting in 101st place.
As mentioned Carlos Sousa sprang a surprise by beating the Minis for the stage win. Sousa, who has been exceptionally consistent since 2001 and has finished nine Dakars in a row in the top 7, took his sixth victory, this time at the wheel of a 4×4 built by the Chinese official Haval manufacturer. His last Dakar win dates from 2007, when the Portuguese rider triumphed in front of his home crowd at the end of a sinuous opening stage in Portimão.