South Africa’s Basson/Pienaar emerges from Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter in 7th position at Dakar 2023

The 2023 Dakar Rally continued to test both man and machine to the limits during the tough second week of competition that saw crews venture into the notorious Empty Quarter of the Saudi Arabian desert.

This huge area in the southeast of the Kingdom, on the border with the United Arab Emirates and Oman is famous for having nothing except huge sand dunes and more dunes. The South African class T1 Rally Raid champions have made a name for themselves in a short space of time since taking up the sport, but a field of dunes lasting for hundreds of kilometres is something that that they haven’t encountered as yet.

“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 co-driver Leander Pienaar in the bivouac near the encampment of Shaybah on the edge of the Empty Quarter. “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. And that’s exactly 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. “We are very happy to reach the hallway point of the marathon stage,” said Basson. “We’re sorry that our teammates lost their lead today, but both cars are still here and ready to take on the last few stages of Dakar.”

Stage 12 saw the crews tackle the return leg as they had to make their way back to Shaybah. Basson and Pienaar started a little further down the order and had to content with tough conditions, but the pairing showed their class by completing their first ever Dakar marathon stage with the 9th fastest time, cementing their 7th overall position in the process.

“We came for the adventure, but Leander and I are racers at heart. So besides wanting to complete the adventure we obviously had our sights set on a good result as well and to be in 7th with only two days to go on our first Dakar is a great result for us. Now we have to keep it together for two more days to achieve our goals of a top ten and to reach the finish podium in the city of Dammam,” concluded Basson.

Follow the Dakar journey on Facebook and Instagram @TeamHiluxRallyRaid.