11 January 2013

South Africa: Van Niekerk Excelling in Dakar Debut

South African Riaan van Niekerk continued an impressive showing in his Dakar Rally debut, finishing 15th in Thursday's very tough stage six, which moved him up to 16th place overall in the motorbike race. His Broadlink KTM Rally Team team-mate Darryl Curtis was 25th in the stage.

With a change to Chilean time, the competitors lost two hours of sleep, which was tough ahead of an early start to a daunting stage of 768 kilometres, which included 455 kilometres of special stage, broken up by 97 kilometres of liaison in the middle.

KTM claimed the top four positions, with Chile's Francisco Lopez taking the stage victory ahead of Portuguese rider Ruben Faria, who finished two minutes and 34 seconds behind the leader. Four-time Dakar champion Cyril Despres took third, three minutes and 48 seconds down.

Car victory

Nasser Al-Attiyah, in a buggy, claimed the car stage victory, finishing eight minutes and 36 seconds ahead of race leader Stephane Peterhansel's Mini, which took second place. That big win closed the gap at the top of the overall standings to just a minute and 18 seconds.

Robbie Gordon continued to make up ground in his Hummer with a third place finish, while Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz placed sixth in their Imperial Toyota Hilux.

De Villers and Von Zitzewitz finished 17 minutes and 17 seconds behind Al-Attiyah, but just over three minutes separated third and sixth places on the stage, which meant they held on to third place overall, 42 minutes and 31 seconds behind Peterhansel.

Motorcycle overall

Yamaha's Olivier Pain, who led the overall motorcycle standings after five stages, claimed ninth place, just over seven-and-a-half minutes off the pace, to maintain his lead, but Despres moved up to second, just two minutes and 22 seconds behind his French compatriot.

Describing his day in a podcast, the first words South Africa's Darryl Curtis could think of were "Dust, dust, dust."

He explained: "I got into a bunch of riders I couldn't get away from and I had dust from the start to the finish.

'A very unpeasant day'

"A very unpleasant day," he continued. "Lots of fesh fesh, very, very fast sections, quite a dangerous day…

"You had to be quite wide awake on the road book. But, all in all, I came in nicely. I was 25th on the day. I moved back in the overall standings back to 19th.

"Riaan, on the other hand, is moving forward. He's gaining places every day. He is riding like a champion. He finished 15th today and moved up to 16th overall.

'A trouble-free day'

Van Niekerk commented: "I had pretty much a trouble-free day today. I had a few of the fast guys in front of me. Basically, I had a clear track in front of me.

"The only problem was I had to navigate the whole day, which I decided was actually a good thing because it forces me to stay on the road book. I am still getting to grips with it.

"I'm still feeling good and I'm just taking it day to day and not taking any chances.

The Dakar Rally covers 8 400 kilometres in 15 days. It finishes in Santiago, Chile on 20 January.

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