SA champ Henk takes first car win, Branch second on bikes

It was a huge day for South African competitors on Dakar's Day 5 around Riyadh. Toyota Gazoo Hilux duo Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings finally delivered on their stage winning promise to bring their Toyota Gazoo Hilux home to a fine victory. And Botswana rider Ross Branch finished a fine second on two wheels, behind Italian MotoGP racer and Dakar rookie sensation Danilo Petrucci's KTM after first man home duo, Aussie Toby Price was booked three minutes for speeding .

There was however more drama before the action even started Thursday morning. The fourth car overall overnight, Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy’s Gazoo Toyota Hilux was slapped with a monster five hour penalty after a second incident involving a motorcycle. That not only saw the South African crew join a long list of race favourites running at the back overall following a litany of different issues, but it also drew widespread criticism of Dakar continuing to race cars and bikes on the same route.

By way of circumstance, while portions of the cars and bike routes have on occasion been separated for safety reasons, Thursday’s romp around Riyadh just happened to be the first ever Dakar stage where the motorcycles raced a completely different route to the cars. That considered, both the cars and bikes became tales of two races as the first machines to start found the going tough as they opened the road. Leaving those who started further back to fight it out for the day’s glory.

All of which played perfectly into Lategan and Cummings’s hands as they not only made good for the team’s overnight woes. They also finally broke their duck. Starting 16th, the triple South African Cross Country champions initially diced Swedes Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist’s petrol-electric Audi RS Q e-Tron before pulling away to win their first Dakar stage after leading on several occasions over the past two years.

Behind them, Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin’s BRX Hunter bounced back after losing time up front early on. The WRC legend set a scorching pace later in the stage to leapfrog up from fourth to second in the final sector. Third overall, ever-consistent Argentine privateers Luciano Alvarez and Araman Monelon’s Hilux led French crew Mathieu Serradori and Loic Minaudier’s Century CR6 to a proudly South African third and fourth. Ahead of Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq’s Thunder buggy.

Another ever-present Dakar force Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk’s Mini was sixth from disappointed de Villiers and Murphy and overall leader Nasser Al Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel’s Gazoo Hiluxes. They kept a watching brief before turning on the taps later in the day to come home eighth and manage their overall gap to Loeb at 35 minutes. South African car crew Chris Visser and Rodney Burke continued to impress as they brought their Century CR6 home a stunning tenth and move up to take the top SA spot in 13th overall.

The other Audis had a tough day. Stéphane Peterhansel stopped to allow the stricken Carlos Sainz to rob his e-Tron of parts to continue. SA men, Shameer Variawa and Danie Stassen’s Gazoo Hilux ran well but but slimped to 22nd. Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer’s Century were fourth before dropping back to finish 25th. Tenacious Century duo Schalk Burger and Henk Janse van Vuuren were 59th at the time of writing, Ernest Roberts and Henry Kohne 60th. And SA navigators Taye Perry sat 34th and Ryan Bland 48th.

As it was in the cars, the first bikes away struggled. While Pettrucci and Branch, who both started outside the top ten made good with tracks to follow. As did Honda men Jose Florimo and Ricky Brabec in third and fourth, rookie Mason Klein’s KTM, and Price, who wound up sixth after his penalty. South African rookie Bradly Cox had a solid ride to 22nd. Ahead of Wednesday’s top three, Honda teammates Pablo Quintanilla and Juan Barreda and Paulo Goncalves’ Sherco.

SA riders, Aron Mare was 25th, Charan Moore 40th, John Kelly 66th, Werner Kennedy 79th, Walter Terblanche 86th, Stuart Gregory 93rd, and Paulo Oliveira 115th. Overall on two wheels, Sam Sunderland provisionally maintains Gas Gas’ iron grip on the bike race, two minutes clear of KTM’s Mattias Walkner and six up on Adrien Beveren’s Yamaha. Ross Branch is up to eighth, 18 minutes off the lead, Mare is 18th, Cox 22nd and Moore 40th.

The other Dakar classes were still racing at the time of writing. Overall leader Rodrigo de Oliveira and Maykal Justo headed Sergei Kariyakin and Andre Vlasuik in the Side by Sides. Seth Quinterio and Denis Zenz Red Bull led Sebastian Eriksson and Wouter Rosegaar and overall leaders Francisco Contardo and Pablo Vinagre’s Can Ams in the UTVs and Alexandre Giroud led overall leader Pablo Copetti in the quads. It was ops normal in the trucks where overall leader Sotnikov was ahead of Shabilov and Nikolaiev in a Kamaz 1-2-3.

409 crews comprising 244 motorcycles, 92 cars, 117 lightweights and quads and 56 trucks started 2022’s 44th Dakar Rally Saturday 1 January. They are racing 4,000 kilometres over a 6,500 km route across the Saudi Arabian Desert to the finish in Jeddah on Friday 12 January. Friday’s Day 6 will see competitors racing 402 km of another 618 km loop around Riyadh.