CÓRDOBA (ARGENTINA): South Racing completed a remarkable record on the 2018 Dakar Rally, which turned out to be one of the most demanding ever events and the toughest that has been staged in South America since the event switched from Africa in 2009.
The team brought all five of its cars to the finish in Argentina’s second city of Córdoba and capped a superb event with outright victory and a 100% finishing record with two Maverick X3s in the SxS category.
The Argentinean pairing of Sebastian Halpern and Eduardo Pulenta held 16th overall at the rest day in La Paz and kept their composure as the temperatures began to climb and several of their esteemed rivals fell by the wayside. Running his South Racing Toyota Hilux with support from Sistemas de riego, Panella Motos, Sportsman and Mendoza Espíritu Grande, the Mendoza driver finished in a superb career-best ninth overall.
Bolivian driver Marco Bulacia and new Argentinean navigator Eugenio Arrieta were classified in 17th at the rest day and climbed as high as 11thbefore reaching the finish in 14th position in the first of two South Racing Ford Rangers.
The German father and son crew of Jürgen and Maximilian Schröder revelled in the fraught conditions and enjoyed an impressive Dakar showing in their South Racing Nissan Navara. Lying 34th at the rest day, the duo began to slowly make their way up the leader board and reached the ceremonial finish in 22nd place.
The South African rookie pairing of Hennie De Klerk and navigator Gerhardt Schutte were classified in 32nd at halfway in their South Racing Volkswagen Amarok running with support from Treasury One, Cooper Tyres and Forex. They overcame their fair share of niggles and delays to reach the finish celebrations in 28th place.
Technical issues and delays in the sand had dropped the Czech duo of Tomáš Ouřednīček David Křipal to 41st in La Paz in the second of the South Racing Ford Rangers. But the pair climbed steadily through the field as the rally crossed Bolivia and the wastelands of northern Argentina. They completed the event in 33rd overall.
To cap a truly memorable race for the entire South Racing Team, the Brazilian duo of Reinaldo Varela and Gustavo Gugelmin gave the South Racing Can-Am Team’s leading Maverick X3 victory in the SxS category.
The Argentine pairing of Leonel Larrauri and Fernando Imperatrice also reached the finish after a catalogue of delays and breakages to ensure that the team were working flat out on every car from start-to-finish. They had the added joy of the fastest time in front of their home crowd on the final stage.
“This was a great event for South Racing and we managed to bring all of our cars home,” said South Racing’s managing director Scott Abraham. “South Racing is the only team in the entire Dakar to do this. We also brought our two cars home in the SxS category. Our satellite and support teams also managed to bring their vehicles home. This involved a huge amount of work, not just by us, but by all the teams. I send big congratulations to all those involved and associated with South Racing.
“Results like this don’t happen without the mechanics. These are the guys who toiled day and night to bring the cars back to life after some of the hardest stages we have seen on many years of the Dakar. Now we can enjoy some much needed holiday before we head off to Baja Russia in February.”
La Paz to Córdoba
The first part of the Marathon stage took place across the high Bolivian plateau from La Paz to Uyuni, a regular stop on recent Dakar rallies. In a route of 727km, competitors tackled a special stage of 425km.
The day began with a liaison section at altitude from the rest day, via the towns of Patacamaya, Caracollo and Oruro, to the start of the special, before a short liaison guided teams into the Marathon night halt. The entire high-speed stage took place at over 3,700 metres above sea level with several tracks reaching in excess of 3,900 metres after the third passage control.
The drama of week one followed teams into the second week. Heavy rain and thick mud caused havoc on the stage and several top drivers lost considerable time extricating themselves from mud holes.
Halpern and Schröder finished the special in an excellent 11th and 13th overall, Bulacia was 18th but De Klerk dropped time after breaking a wishbone in a muddy hole. Ouřednīček suffered clutch issues and was forced to wait for the T4 support truck before progressing to the Marathon bivouac in Uyuni.
The second section of the Marathon stage ran from Uyuni to Tupiza and included the longest special stage of the rally thus far – 498km. The timed test offered stretches of high-altitude sand dunes, started to the northeast of Uyuni and climbed as high as 4,800 metres above sea level before the fifth passage control.
Halpern and Bulacia began the second half of the stage from the dizzy heights of 12th and 13th in the overall rankings and they maintained their positions, despite Bulacia ceding over 34 minutes to the Argentinean and finishing the special behind Schröder. The German held 25th overall, while De Klerk and Ouřednīček headed into Argentina in 32nd and 40th overall.
Race officials opted to cancel the ninth stage in Bolivia before the race crossed the frontier into Argentina en route from Tupiza to Salta. An adverse weather forecast had led to the risk of thunderstorms, flooding and severe disruption.
After a long liaison from Salta, the stage action resumed with a special of 373km in Argentina, which finished near the town of Belén. Bumpy sandy tracks, dunes and camel grass, coupled with river crossings and difficult navigation, made it a very hard stage.
Halpern and Bulacia emerged relatively unscathed in 16th and 19th places and Schröder was 22nd. It enabled the South Racing trio to hold 10th, 13th and 22nd in the overall rankings. De Klerk and Ouřednīček were 25th and 29th.
Crews headed to lower altitudes and much warmer temperatures for the 11th stage between Belén and Chilecito in the La Rioja Province. The special also included a pass through the treacherous white sand dunes at Fiambalá.
Halpern and Bulacia led the five South Racing crews safely through what turned out to be a very tricky day’s racing with the 13th and 16th fastest times to hold 10th and 12th overall. Schröder, Ouřednīček and De Klerk were 27th, 28th and 29th and held 24th, 35th and 30th overall.
Stage 12 ran in insipid heat between Chilecito and San Juan and included a second pass through soft sand dunes and numerous river crossings where precise navigation was imperative. Halpern emerged unscathed to retain 10th overall, but Bulacia lost time and slipped to 14th. Schröder, De Klerk and Ouřednīček reached San Juan in 23rd, 28th and 31st.
The penultimate stage headed out of San Juan in the direction of the night halt in Córdoba and included a stage of 369km that crossed the dunes of San Juan and ran through the Papas de las Salinas and over a number of tracks often used in the WRC Rally of Argentina.
Halpern and Bulacia continued their impressive progress to the finish with the eighth and 13th fastest times and the South Racing quintet reached Argentina’s second city in ninth, 14th, 22nd, 28th and 33rd overall.
There were no major dramas for the five crews and South Racing confirmed an historic feat of getting all their cars to the finish after surviving the final nervy 120km special.
2018 Dakar Rally – final standings:
1. Carlos Sainz (ESP)/Lucas Cruz (ESP) Peugeot 3008 DKR Maxi 49hrs 16min 18sec
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux 49hrs 59min 58sec
3. Giniel de Villiers (ZAF)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (DEU) Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux 50hrs 32min 59sec
4. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA) Peugeot 3008 DKR 50hrs 41min 47sec
9. Sebastien Halpern (ARG)/Eduardo Pulenta (ARG) South Racing Toyota Hilux 58hrs 24min 28sec
14. Marco Bulacia (BOL)/Eugenio Arrieta (BOL) South Racing Ford Ranger 62hrs 24min 47sec
22. Jürgen Schröder (DEU)/Max Schröder (DEU) South Racing Nissan Navara 72hrs 34min 28sec
28. Hennie De Klerk (ZAF)/Gerhardt Schutte (ZAF) South Racing Volkswagen Amarok 84hrs 13min 26sec
33. Tomáš Ouřednīček (CZE)/David Křipal (CZE) South Racing Ford Ranger 103hrs 04min 50sec