The Mini X-Raid management had already decided the outcome of this year’s Dakar at the end of stage 11 last week – despite there being two stages left of the ultimate rally raid – with Joan “Nani” Roma leading Stephane Peterhansel and Nasser Al-Attiyah home for a planned podium whitewash. The only person who was within reach of upsetting the Mini party was South African Giniel de Villiers.
But with nearly half an hour deficit to Qatari Al-Attiyah, it was nigh impossible for De Villiers to make up for that kind of time when a team as strong as the Mini outfit decides to play it safe at the end. And just in case the Imperial Toyota Hilux faltered, there was the Mini of Argentinian Orlando Terranova to pick up fourth overall. Fortunately, De Villiers held on to finish just behind the top trio – his seventh top five finish in ten years of Dakar participation.
I’m a bit disappointed not to be on the podium. But we’ve got to be realistic. We weren’t as good as the Minis this year, especially at high altitude, and to make matters worse we lost too much time at the beginning due to problems with our power steering. In a race as difficult as this year’s, it’s impossible to claw back the time lost at the beginning, but I want to thank my team nevertheless for their outstanding work to solve the problem. On the other hand, we showed the car’s reliable,” De Villiers said.
But for 41-year old Spaniard Roma, the victory is particularly sweet because it was earned ten years after his first win – in the motorcycle category. Roma’s performance was consistent throughout the event, but toward the end he faced increased pressure from Peterhansel.
“I don’t know if this was the most stressful thing I’d ever done, but it was very tough. The second week, with difficult, long stages, wasn’t easy. I’m going to revel in this. Ten years to the day after winning on a motorcycle, I’ve won in a car. It’s a dream come true,” said Roma – who dedicated the victory to his late former co-driver Henri Magne.
Argentine Lucio Alvarez in SA’s Neil Woolridge Motorsport-prepared Ford Ranger managed 22nd overall – a bit of a disappointment considering that the potential to finish higher was there.
“We didn’t have the race I was hoping for, but the important thing is we brought the car to the finish line and we had a good run this week. It’s great to reach the podium, and we will take a lot away from this race to develop the car for next year. To be more competitive we’ll need to focus on engine performance, but other than that the car is really good,” Alvarez admitted.
South African privateer Thomas Rundle performed particularly well, earning 25th overall position in the Hilux that took De Villiers to second overall last year. The position is particularly impressive considering that this was his Dakar debut.
“At times we were not sure we’d make it to Valparaiso, but we kept our heads down and stuck to our game plan of driving within ourselves, taking no unnecessary risks and aiming just to finish. We have all learnt a great deal about this unique race and we will be back to put this experience to the best use in 2015,” Rundle said.
In the bike category, Spaniard Marc Coma emerged as champion for the fourth time, ahead of compatriot Jordi Viladoms and Frenchman Olivier Pain. South African KTM riders Riaan Van Niekerk and Brett Cummings finished 12th and 28th overall – the latter finished fifth overall in the Malle moto class.