The first week of the 2013 Dakar Rally ended on a dramatic note when floods hit the eighth special stage between Salta and San Miguel de Tucuman, leading to a big reduction in the length of the stage. When the resulting chaos was finally dealt with, South Africa's competitors still featured strongly in the overall standings.
Only the first four cars made it to the finish, with the Imperial Toyota Hilux pair of Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz becoming one of the many unable to cross a swollen river 30 kilometres from the end of the stage.
Guerlain Chicherit in an SMG Buggy took the stage victory ahead of Orlando Terranova in a BMW, the Hummer of Robbie Gordon and race leader stephane Peterhansel in a Mini. De Villiers was given fifth place, 12 minutes and 15 seconds behind the leader, the same deficit as the rest of the field.
'Quite a challenging stage'
"It was quite a challenging stage!" said De Villiers afterwards.
"It went well for us. We started fifth and overtook Nasser when he suffered a puncture. Then we reached a river which was totally flooded. It was impossible to cross.
"We heard from the organisers that the rest of the stage was neutralised and that the result would be taken as at Check Point 2 - a pity, as we were having a good run and would probably have been able to make up a bit more time by the end."
Overall, after the first week of racing, De Villiers occupied third place, just over 44 minutes behind Peterhansel. Nasser Al-Attiyah, in a Buggy, was only three minutes and 14 seconds behind the Frenchman, in second place.
'Tough and hectic'
"It's been a tough and hectic week," commented team manager Glyn Hall. "Giniel and Dirk have had a very good run so far and we're in a good position to challenge for a podium position in Santiago on January 20.
"Duncan [Vos] and Rob [Howie] were unlucky to go out the way they did. They could have continued if the roll cage hadn't been damaged, but the rules do not allow this.
Looking ahead, he said: "We still have another tough week of racing ahead of us before we can say we conquered the Dakar again."
On two wheels, Brett Cummings, riding a Honda, was South Africa's top performer on stage eight. He finished 17th, 17 minutes and 22 seconds behind the stage winner, Joan Barreda Bort. The USA's Johnny Campbell, on a Honda, followed the Husqvarna rider across the line, just over seven minutes down, with KTM's Ivan Jakes in third.
South Africa's Broadlink KTM Rally team of Riaan van Niekerk and Darryl Curtis had some difficulties on the stage, but Van Niekerk still managed to improve his position in the overall standings.
He finished in 38th spot, over 24 minutes behind the leader, while Curtis managed only 77th place, about 12-and-a-half minutes behind Van Niekerk.
Yamaha's David Casteu took over the race lead, close to 10 minutes ahead of multiple winner Cyril Despres. Race rookie Van Niekerk climbed up to 15th place, a remarkable position given his inexperience in the event, while Curtis dropped to 19th. Top 20s for both men after the first week was a solid achievement.
'Lots of drama'
"There was lots of drama for everybody yesterday as all the front runners got lost, some more than others, and it caused quite a bit of chaos," Curtis said on Sunday, the rest day.
Explaining the problems the riders encountered, he said: "In a river bed at about kilometre 410, we had to turn right and follow another valley, but we were in the wrong valley. When we were going up and down the river, it was really an enduro section, lots of rocks , it was raining and really, really difficult. There were tracks everywhere."
In the quad category, South Africa's Sarel van Biljon won claimed the stage victory on his E-ATV, almost two minutes ahead of Yamaha's Marcos Patronelli, and just over two-and-a-half minutes up on Can-Am rider Sebastian Palma.
Patronelli enjoys a big lead in the overall standings. The Argentine star is just under an hour and 24 minutes up on Chile's Ignacio Casale, with Van Biljon in third, a touch over two hours behind the leader.
The Dakar Rally ends in Santiago, Chile on 20 January after covering 8 400 kilometres in 15 days.