Basson/Pienaar claim rookie victory and top 10 finish on Dakar debut
  • SA’s Eben Basson and Leander Pienaar complete tough Dakar debut
  • National Class T1 champions crowned Lightweight Prototype rookie winners in Dammam
  • The G Rally Team crew ended the two-week long race in 7th position on the overall rankings

The 2023 Dakar Rally was described by many experienced competitors as one of, if not the toughest in the recent history of the notorious rally.

So perhaps not the ideal time to take on the world’s toughest race, but that’s exactly what South Africa’s Eben Basson and Leander Pienaar did when they joined the starting line-up in the G Rally Team OT3 in the lightweight prototype category of the Dakar Rally when the event kicked off on New Year’s Day on the shores of the Red Sea in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The 2023 route would see crews traverse the vast empty spaces of the Saudi Kingdom, including a late visit to the Empty Quarter towards the end of the event. After 14 stages that covered nearly 8000 kilometres, of which 5000 were against the stopwatch, the #TeamHilux Rally-Raid Crew did themselves, their team, and their country proud by arriving at the finish line in Dammam with their names occupying the 7th position on the overall classification in class T3. “We came here with one clear objective, and that was to finish the race,” said an emotional Basson at the finish line. “But before we started, Leander and I decided that we weren’t here to mess around. We set ourselves a target of a top 10 finish.” The pairing had no choice but to quickly get to grips with their G Rally Team OT3 car, a car they’ve never driven before the start of the event. They took to it like a duck to water and it didn’t take them long to bust into the top 10. “Unfortunately, like many of the other teams, we had a few unfortunate setbacks that robbed us of valuable time and a few positions on the overall leaderboard. But that’s racing and it is the same for everyone.”

Basson and Pienaar got into their stride midway through the event and although they haven’t really been in big dunes before, they regularly found themselves setting times in the upper echelon of the class amongst some fierce competition. This included their teammates Guillaume de Mevius and Francois Cazalet who were well on course to claim victory for the team until a small electrical problem dropped them down to third place late in the rally.

With only a few stages to go, Basson and Pienaar’s names settled into a comfortable 7th in the overall standings. They were just a little too far behind to fight for 6th while also having a relatively comfortable margin over the chasing pack. “At this point, we knew that we did all that we could do. For the last few stages it became a matter of survival as our focus was to simply defend our overall position,” added Basson. Besides fighting against some of the biggest names in the sport of Rally Raid racing, the pairing also had to battle the elements and a few other challenges that the Arabian desert could throw a them. “We didn’t expect rain and cold weather in the desert, but that’s exactly what we got. We got soaking wet on several occasions and it was freezing for many days. Doing 500 kilometres in the freezing cold without a windscreen in the car was not the most enjoyable part, but it all forms part of the challenge,” said an elated Pienaar at the finish line.

In the end, they were rewarded with a fine 7th position. All the competitors in front of them have done the Dakar before, so the crew also walked away with the coveted rookie prize on the 2023 Dakar. “It is still sinking in. It will probably take me another two weeks to realize what we experienced over the past two weeks,” said Pienaar. “I’m very satisfied that we had the pace to run with the front runners on our first Dakar,” added Basson. “As a racer at heart, one always wants to win, but realistically, our rookie victory and 7th overall is a great result for us. I’m already thinking of how we can put things in place to return to the world’s toughest race once more in 2024.”

The #TeamHilux Rally-Raid and G Rally Team would like to thank it’s supporters and associated sponsors who made their 2023 Dakar Rally participation possible.

Basson and Pienaar, together with the other 2 #TeamHilux Rally-Raid crews, including their teammates from Malalane Toyota, Johan and Werner Horn, as well as the brothers from Witbank, Fouche and Bertus Blignaut, will compete in the South African Rally-Raid Championship across South Africa. The flag will drop for the first race in March, where the team will be racing in their Toyota Hilux bakkies. “We would like to invite everyone to join us at the SARRC rallies, the atmosphere is amazing and the racing even better.” Basson concluded.

Follow the exhilarating action of the #TeamHIlux Rally-Raid team on Facebook and Instagram @TeamHiluxRallyRaid.