· Halpern and Bulacia hold 16th and 17th in overall standing into Bolivia
· South African rookies De Klerk and Schutte impress in 32nd in new Amarok
· German Schröder and Czech Ouřednīček recover well to reach La Paz
LA PAZ (BOLIVIA): South Racing brought all five of its cars to the finish of the first week of the 2018 Dakar Rally after some of the toughest special stages the event has thrown at competitors since the race toured the Mauritanian Sahara in Africa over 10 years ago.
Punishing heat, tricky navigation and some of the most difficult sand dunes anywhere on the planet failed to stop the South Racing quintet reaching the rest day in La Paz in 16th, 17th, 32nd 34th and 41st overall. It was a mammoth performance by the entire team to maintain its 100% finishing record against such adversity.
The Argentinean pairing of Sebastian Halpern and Eduardo Pulenta led the way in 16th position after a solid performance in their South Racing Toyota Hilux (No. 331). Like everyone, Halpern lost time in the dunes, but emerged without major issues to remain on course for a top 10 finish. The Mendoza driver has additional support from Sistemas de riego, Panella Motos, Sportsman and Mendoza Espíritu Grande for his Dakar challenge.
Marco Bulacia and new Argentinean navigator Eugenio Arrieta reached La Paz a mere 3min 01sec behind their rivals in the first of the two South Racing Ford Rangers (No. 327). The Bolivian had been ahead of Halpern until dropping over 10 minutes on the first of the stages at altitude between Arequipa and the rest day.
The South African pairing of Hennie De Klerk and navigator Gerhardt Schutte have delivered an impressive rookie performance in the South Racing Volkswagen Amarok (No. 353), running with support from Treasury One, Cooper Tyres and Forex. They adapted well to a true baptism of fire over the Peruvian stages and hold 32nd position at the rest day.
Two places and 1hr 35min 04sec further behind, in 34th overall, are the German father and son crew of Jürgen and Maximilian Schröder in the South Racing Nissan Navara (No. 343). They overcame their fair share of delays in the dunes and recovered well to stay on course for a push towards the top 20 over the remaining eight stages.
Tomáš Ouřednīček and navigator David Křipal recovered well from earlier delays that dropped them to the rear of the rankings and they have found a competitive and safe pace over the last few stages in the second of the South Racing Ford Rangers (No. 340). The Czech duo for 41stoverall in La Paz.
“It has been a difficult week for all the teams involved and, for sure, a proper Dakar with dunes, mud, tracks and a huge challenge for the drivers, the team and the mechanics who have to work day and night sometimes,” said South Racing’s managing director Scott Abraham.
“The effort is often on their shoulders and I think the fact that South Racing is the only team that has all its cars entered still at the rest day is a testament to their efforts. It also shows the quality of the week we do and the passion we have. The drivers have done a great job.
“Okay, the dunes caught them out some days, but they have come back and recovered. We must also remember that our crew of Mathias Behringer, Stefan Henken and Marco Moreiras in the T4 have been critical on some of those days and they are also in the top 20 (17th) in the truck classification. All in all, it’s been a good start and we look forward to getting through the Marathon day and reaching the tracks in Argentina.”
The competitive action began with a short special stage of 32km, near Pisco, after a 272km along the Pacific Coast from the Peruvian capital of Lima.
Bulacia opened his account with the 28th quickest time, although there was no advantage to be gained by finishing among the leaders on the first stage with no motorcycle tracks to follow on the longer second loop stage through the Pisco dunes. Halpern was registered in 47th and Schröder, De Klerk and Ouřednīček, were 52nd, 59th and 61st with the Czech delayed with a technical issue.
The second stage ran for 267km in a loop through the sand dunes around Pisco. Cars preceded the motorcycles into the stage and the front-runners could, therefore, not benefit from tracks in the sand.
Bulacia reached the finish in 21st position and moved up to 22nd overall. Halpern and De Klerk were classified in 31st and 32nd and held 31st and 30th at the start of the third stage to San Juan de Marcona. Halpern had lost some time assisting Lucio Alvarez, who had rolled into a sand basin. Schröder slipped to 51st after a crash and Ouřednīček was 67th.
“We climbed a dune too fast and rolled several times downwards,” said Schröder. It was my fault. Our problem was that nobody passed there.” Eventually he received some support from the German driver Rainer Wissmanns and was able to continue to the finish.
Ouřednīček endured an action-packed delay in the dunes. “We spent 13 hours in the dunes. We managed to pass one dune where about a dozen cars were stuck but then, on another quite soft dune, we got stuck and lost reverse gear. The car was facing uphill and we had to come down the down without reverse gear. We came up with the idea to turn the car using the lifting jack and its plate. Centimetre-by-centimetre, David managed to turn the car and we were able to finish.”
The third day headed south from Pisco to the town of San Juan de Marcona. The special stage of 296km was split into two sections, started near Pisco and wound its way across dunes and through a canyon to finish close to the town of Ica, which was shattered over 10 years ago by a massive earthquake. A liaison of 208km skirted the mythological town of Nasca to steer teams into San Juan de Marcona.
Bulacia and Halpern emerged unscathed from another day in the dunes in 21st and 22nd overall, De Klerk continued his climb to 31st and Schröder moved up to 44th.
The fourth stage of 330km was delayed for 30 minutes because of low-lying fog in the San Juan de Marcona area. A liaison of 114km took crews to the start on Peñuelas beach to the south and vehicles left in groups of four before heading inland for another demanding sandy stage of 330km.
Halpern and Bulacia were 18th and 22nd on the punishing special and held 19th and 18th overall at the start of the fifth section towards Arequipa. Ouřednīček bounced back from a fraught few days with the 28th fastest time to hold 52nd and De Klerk was 34th overall. Schröder survived the dunes in 41st position.
The last of the stages in the Peruvian dunes before the climb into Arequipa reaped more carnage amongst the front-runners and many complained that the dunes were the softest and trickiest they had ever faced. All five South Racing cars emerged relatively unscathed and Bulacia, Halpern, De Klerk, Schröder and Ouřednīček reached Arequipa in 17th, 18th, 33rd, 36th and 44th overall.
Stage six preceded the rest day and crossed the frontier into Bolivia. The initial part of the special reached an altitude of 4,722 metres above sea level and the punishing heat and sand of Perú was replaced by chilly temperatures, rain, mud and standing pools of water. All five South Racing cars made it safely through the stage and on to the rest day, with Halpern leading the way in 16th.
Eight stages remain on the 40th Dakar Rally before the finish in Córdoba on January 20th. Teams will cross the Bolivian Altiplano with a Marathon stage around Uyuni before heading into Argentina for the remaining few days of what has become a true Dakar classic in the spirit of those early races that were the brainchild of the late Frenchman Thierry Sabine.
2017 Dakar Rally – overall standings at La Paz rest day:
1. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA) Peugeot 3008 DKR 16hrs 25min 02sec
2. Carlos Sainz (ESP)/Lucas Cruz (ESP) Peugeot 3008 DKR Maxi 16hrs 52min 12sec
3. Bernhard Ten Brinke (NED)/Michel Périn (FRA) Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux 17hrs 45min 43sec
16. Sebastien Halpern (ARG)/Eduardo Pulenta (ARG) South Racing Toyota Hilux 22hrs 18min 00sec
17. Marco Bulacia (BOL)/Eugenio Arrieta (BOL) South Racing Ford Ranger 22hrs 21min 01sec
32. Hennie De Klerk (ZAF)/Gerhardt Schutte (ZAF) South Racing Volkswagen Amarok 28hrs 42min 03sec
34. Jürgen Schröder (DEU)/Max Schröder (DEU) South Racing Nissan Navara 30hrs 17min 07sec
41. Tomáš Ouřednīček (CZE)/David Křipal (CZE) South Racing Ford Ranger 40hrs 27min 51sec