Leon Botha- The toughest rally adventure in the world. An adventure so many people dream about and never do – simply because they do not really aspire to anything more than watching a Sevens Rugby game.
There is one program on TV that made me think of many things, even in my life – and goodness knows I realised something I thought I knew all about. That is a thing called “passion”.
The Dakar spirit and determination will keep on flashing through the nights.So many people speak about “passion” as if it is a word describing “something you like a lot”, but they are so far off the mark, it is not even funny.
The Dakar spirit and determination will keep on flashing through the nights.
I think Elvis Presley started a little bit of passion and the Beatles sort of took it one step further – when young girls fainted after they threw their panties onto the stage.
The Americans passionately attended WWW wrestling – like in most things in their lives being passionately screwed out of the truth – but they got the T-shirt, paid for it and wore it.
Some people became “passionate” about watching F1 and more so about WRC and now even more so about Rallycross – but still – did not understand the true meaning of the word.
Look on the TV channel “VIA” and then search for a program called “JAN” like in Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen. A young South African who earned a Michelin Star for his restaurant in Nice.
That is where you will see what it means to be passionate about something!
That is how I feel about driving a car – teaching – training – talking about rallying – but allowed many factors to stand between my passion and what I was passionate about.
Jan Hendrik simply does not allow anything to come between him and his creativity.
Why did I start of referring to passion?
Simply because that is what you need to win a Dakar Rally and I believe the most passionate person on this event is still the Frenchman Stephané Peterhansel.
The 2017 finish
He will start with the number 300 on his Peugeot 3008 DKR’s doors and will once again be the person to beat on this coming monster event.
Reading about the various drivers – one realises that there are so many different strong points between the lot of them – that any one of eight of them can actually win the even – all things being equal.
The 52 year old Peterhansel however is the person with most wins under the safety belt. The skateboard champ of the 80’s won his first even in 1991 on a Bike and his first one in a car during the 2004 event.
So far he accumulated 6 wins on bikes and seven in cars.
It is known fact that the Dakar will start off this year on sand and cover more sand dunes in South America than any since 2009. Sand and dunes will play a major role on this years event, and will make the competition even fiercer.
The fact that this is Peugeot’s final Dakar before they withdraw to concentrate on other things, will also play a role in Peterhansel’s approach as it will for Sebastien Loeb and also Carlos Sainz.
The fact that Peterhansel can drive anything you hand him on any surface you send him over is a hell of a plus point, but the fact that he is like Al-Attiyah a master of the sand dunes – may just give him the bonus point he needs to pull off his 14th win.
If I was a bookie, my odds on him to win, will be 2/1
Al-Attiyah 301 – who will be campaigning a Toyota Hilux again for the Toyota Gazoo team has an excellent record but he remains a little bit of a dark horse even though he won in 2011 in a VW and in 2015 in a Mini.
This year he will have a definite advantage over number of the top drivers – but not over Peterhansel or de Villiers who are both masters of the Dakar. The former an overall dune master and the latter a genius in reading the roads and predicting dune slopes and conditions.
My odds on Al-Attiyah winning is 3/1
Nani Roma 302 45 years old. XRaid Mini 4×4 Diesel
Nani has a great record riding bikes on the Dakar, but he will not win the Dakar all going fairly good for the others. A win pulled off by him will be a luck shot rather than expected.
The new X-Raid Mini challenger for 2017 Dakar rally honours is a rear-wheel-drive buggy design with increased suspension travel.
His other problem is that this will also be the first time that he crosses the dunes in Peru – then on the other hand he proved that on a Bike he could read dunes very well.
So, who knows – my odds on him 5/1
303 Carlos (the King) Sainz age 55
Carlos will be driving a Peugeot 3008 DKR 2×4 again this year.
Motivation – this is his last Dakar and Carlos always has something to prove, never mind what he drives.
The problem here is that Carlos did not finish the past five events in succession but won the 2010 event in a VW.
Carlos is good – there is no doubt – but a hot head has never worked for a Dakar driver.
The fact that he will be trying to win his last event will also count against him.
ODDS in my book 4/1
304 GINIEL DE VILLIERS 45 years old – Toyota Hilux 4×4
Many of us older guys have always referred to him as a “young man” but he has now also reached middle age and I suppose one has to respect that.
Possibly the shot of the year!
Many years ago most of the best rally drivers only reached their peak at this age – so I do not believe there will be any handicap, age related.
Then – positive and at the same time a little bit negative as well is the fact that this incredible driver finished every single Dakar of the 14 events he entered. His worst result was in 2007 when he managed to finish in the still good position of 11th overall.
Then on the other side of the coin is that he managed “only” one overall win – and at the same time became the first driver to win the South American Dakar in 2009 when the rally moved away from a troubled Africa.
In 2010 he finished 7th – his lowest position in the past 8 years.
His results from 2011 were 2,3,2,4,2,3 and 5 – which one journalist called “going downward” – where he sees that and how he gets to that conclusion goodness knows but he sure as hell has no idea what he is talking about. Strange enough Orlando Terranova the Argentian who would give his left one for a record like that of Giniel – does not mention Geniel in his “chance for a win” prediction.
He mentions Loeb, Al-Attiyah, Peterhansel, Sainz, Roma and even the rookie Menzies.
One has to admit that Terranova is closer to the action than I will ever be, but when you leave out someone like Giniel with such a record then respectfully – you also have no idea.
The downside with Giniel is that he seems to stretch within limits and just enough to ensure a finish on event or to put it differently – he does not exceed any limits to ensure that he makes the least possible mistakes.
This is the difference between him and Al-Attiyah and a driver like Sainz.
Sainz especially seems to throw caution to the wind the moment he loses a bit of time – instead of realising that this is a rally where things can go wrong until the very last moment and if you lie in the top three – you always have a chance of pulling it off.
The increased use of dunes this year will catch Sainz out as sure as I am sitting here, while the advantage of the dunes is that it will benefit de Villiers, Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah. The latter the best candidate to come short as he will not back down until the engine dies.
The last permutation will work in Toyota’s favour as Giniel will be there to take over when Al-Attiyah stuffs it up.
Giniel de Villiers – 2/1 in my book and 10/2 for a place.
305 – Mikko Hirvonen Mini XRaid – John Cooper Buggy – 37 years old 4 times runner up in the WRC – behind one of, if not the best rally driver ever – Sebastien Loeb.
This year he has Andreas Schulz, who navigated Kleinschmidt to a win in 2001 and did the same for Masouka in 2003, as navigator.
Mikko Hirvonen – can never be disregarded.
I believe that this step will make up for the lack of experience and even the lack of seat-time Hirvonen enjoys these days.
Hirvonen only managed to finish 13th last year but that after the team got lost, the car lost reverse, they ran into a competing truck and the radiator broke!
Hirvonen will probably finish on or very near the podium. He has always been one of the most underrated drivers in my book.
Odds on him 5/1
Car 306 – the man – 43 year old multi world rally champion – Sebastien Loeb.
This year may well be the last chance he will have to add a Dakar win to his CV as Peugeot will withdraw from the event after 2018, so – expect him to use every inch of his experience as the best driver ever and pull off something actually destined for the likes of Peterhansel or de Villiers.
His problem will however lie in the lack of experience over dunes while his incredible rally navigator Daniel Elena, also lacks the same experience Loeb will need.
The fact that only bad luck with a puncture last year on the flowing Cadoba stages, kept him from a much closer fight and possible victory , must count and tell us to expect the unexpected!
But ….just as I want to predict a win for him this year – I see dunes in my mind and a little doubt sets in.
The man – Sebastien Loeb, but has he enough magic left to pull this one off?
When he quoted that this year will again be “unpredictable and we have a very good chance to win” I sat straight up in my chair again – frowning the frown of a very uncertain mind.
Odds – what else than 2/1 and after week 1 it will probably drop to 5/2
Car 307 – Orlando Terranova 38 year old Argentinian driver attacking in a XRaid Mini. By the way the Mini’s are like the Toyotas also lighter (-120kg) better performing and handling due to more suspension travel and improved brakes for this year.
Terranova reckons that the improvement makes a ½ second per km difference – which does not sound like much – but if you calculate it means that they could well gain around 37 minutes this year? Luckily for the other teams – all else seems to be lighter, handles and performs better as well – so what the hell.
CAR 308 – Cyril Despres – 43yrs – Frenchman Peugeot 3008 DKR.
A true biker with 5 Dakar wins in that category before he moved to cars in 2015. He made some serious progress over the three years from 34th to 7th and last year 3rd overall.
It will be silly to discard his chances and if he gets the dunes right – he will be a strong contender again this year.
Odds – 7/1
CAR 309 – Bernhard Ten Brinke – Nederland – 40 years old.
He will be driving a SA build Toyota Hilux as part of the Gazoo team.
The odds on him is an easy 30/1
310 – Bryce Menzies – 30 year old American who seem to be the favourite Rookie, He would have competed last year had he not broken his shoulder during a long jump record attempt in a car (115m)
He did however meantime finish 8th in the Morocco rally and 9th in the Silkway – but his navigator is also a rookie in the Dakar. How people can spend this sort of money and then place two rookies in the same vehicle – boggles my already confused mind.
Anyway – they say he will surprise everyone. So watch him in stage 1 and maybe 2.
CAR 311 Martin Prokop 35 year old Czech – excellent rally driver – 2nd Dakar Rookie in 2016 when he finished 14th overall and 11th last year.
I believe that three of the mentioned drivers will fill the podium at the end of the 8813km event.
The finishing order? Now that is a different matter.
The best possible combination on paper according to past performance and a few other factors is:
while if Al-Attiyah gets away with it – the order will be
Loeb or de Villiers.
The first week will be run over 3194km of which 1505kms are stages.
On Saturday the teams will set out from Lima and drive to Pisco covering 273kms of which 31kms will be their first meeting with sand!
So – do not be surprised if one or two teams lose time on this short one already.
We will be watching what South African Hennie de Klerk (353) in the SA built VW Amarok 4×4 in Class A T1.1 4×4 Essence – the top 4×4 class does through stage 1 as that will either make me sit up straight or allow me to relax a bit regarding their safety.
Hennie is not a driver who believes in looking things through before attacking – and goodness knows, I hope he does not treat the Dakar that way.
Hennie de Klerk will be driving the VW Amaroc
On Day two – 7th Jan 2018 – the teams will do a loop from Pico and back.
278kms of which 267km are stages.
The teams will not have the benefit of following bike tracks as the cars will depart first and there will be no bike tracks to follow.
The first 40kms will be through canyons and then the teams will meet up with some serious dunes.
The turbo cars will not have an advantage here as the highest point is about 700m above sea-level.
The result in this stage will be a fair indication of things to come – at least until end week one.
Day 3 will see them tackling the route between Pisco and San Juan de Marcona over 506kms of which 296 will be timed stage.
Again equal playing ground between the turbo and normally aspirated cars. Highest above sea level is around 725m
The experts say that the top teams will by now have warmed up properly – and that the rally will begin.
I tend to disagree – as I believe that the top driver with the best luck on his side this year will win this event. I say this as I have a feeling that drivers such as Al-Attiyah and Sainz will throw everything they got into day one and especially two – to open a gap. If they manage to do that – the pressure will be on everyone and the driver caught napping behind the wheel will lose so much time that he will have to put too hard later to close up the gap again.
Still – this is the Dakar – winners have won simply because they lost less time than the rest!
The loop on day 4 from San Juan de Marcona and back will see a start with 4 cars abreast (15 bikers) which in itself will make the run very, very interesting.
I do not understand exactly how this will work, but if they do not split off after a substantial distance from the start – the first section of the route will be spectacular. Every one of them will want to be first on the road – which is why I can not think how they will run this.
Another factor on this stage is that the route will climb to around 2100m above sea level and that will have an effect on the non-turbo cars for a short while. The average height above sea level is about 1000m and it spikes to around 2000 three times.
The organisers predict some very tricky navigation over the last section through canyons but that will only come after one of the longest ever Dakar sand sections. 100kms!
Will this be the stage that will sort the very good from the geniuses?
I thinks so!
The 4×4 Mini to be driven by Terranova
Next day SS5 San Juan de Marcona to Arequipa will be the devils 666kms of liason and King Rallies 268km stage. Maybe a prediction that Sainz will win it?
Bikes and Quads will run over a separate route.
The drivers will meet up with the mountainous dunes of Tanaka.
The surface will be 84% over sand and 16% soil – so you can expect a few late arrivals at the bivoac that evening.
SS6 Thursday 11th Jan 2018 is the last stage of the first section before a rest day.
It will run from Arequipa to Le Paz over 760kms of which 313 will be timed stage.
The circus will now leave Peru and descent to the faster mountainous sections into Bolivia.
The pace will be up but the altitude will favour the turbo boosted cars over the whole stage.
The highest level will be 4700m – and the lowest around 3800m above sea level- this will not be a custom made stage for the Toyotas. If they can stay with the Peugeots and Minis through this stage – a few teams may be very worried about the second stage.
That’s it for the first section – let’s hold thumbs for Giniel, Toyota, Al-Attiyah for SA’s sake, Hennie de Klerk and also the two SA Bikers Willem du Toit (59), Donovan van de Langenberg (125) and Gerry van der Byl (129) who will all compete on KTM bikes.
Please let me know during the event if you hear or know anything worthwhile writing about. On our side we will try to keep you posted with regular reports – while I run around to get the all new Rallystar Motorsport Academy going!