Monday, 6 February, 2023

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Lowveld racer in seventh position in Class T3 at Dakar Rally

The 2023 Dakar Rally started with a literal bang, as many of the top contenders in the rally suffered heavy crashes early on. In the overall standings, the names of Peterhansel and Sainz are conspicuously absent – yet in Class T3, South Africa’s Eben Basson and Leander Pienaar soldier on.

Eben Basson is a businessman from Komatipoort and his co-driver, Leander Pienaar, hales from Bloemfontein.

“The rally has been incredibly tough so far. Not only on the car, but also on us,” Basson said yesterday from the rest day at the bivouac in Riyadh. “The stages are tough, the liaisons are often long, and without a windscreen we often find ourselves exposed to the cold and rain. But we love every moment.”

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South Africans Eben Basson and Leander Pienaar in their Class T3 OT3 racer

The South African Class T1 champions have been campaigning a lightweight prototype side-by-side vehicle in Class T3 of the rally. They are up against some experienced and fast competitors, including teammates Guillaume de Mevius and his co-driver Francois Cazalet. The Belgian driver and his French partner are currently leading the class T3 battle and serving as an inspiration to Basson and Pienaar.

SEE ALSO: Racer from Komatipoort representing the Lowveld at the 2023 Dakar Rally

“It is such an honour to be part of the G Rally Team, and to be driving an identical OT3 lightweight prototype to the one that is currently leading the class,” said Basson. “Our teammates are superstars in this world, and we are learning a lot from them every day.”

After five stages, Basson and Pienaar found themselves in eighth place in the T3 standings, but then the rains came down. So much so, in fact, that the bivouac at Al Dawudimi was flooded, forcing the organisers to reroute the rally to Riyadh instead. They also switched some stages around and came up with a novel “remote service” after Stage 7, which saw the service crews work on the cars for a maximum of two hours at a remote location. The race crews then stayed over in a makeshift bivouac, before racing back towards Riyadh for Stage 8 of the rally.

“It was quite a mess in terms of the schedule. You plan things out in your mind ahead of each stage, but then suddenly it all changed. But we got through all the changes without serious problems, and finally arrived safely in Riyadh for the rest day.”

The intrepid #TeamHilux crew completed Stage 8 in the eighth-fastest time, relinquishing 6m08s to the stage winners. They had spent most of the stage setting the second-fastest time, until a technical niggle near the end of the stage set them back by around 20 minutes.

“It was an amazing day, and a great way to end our first week at the Dakar Rally,” said Basson. “Leander has been doing a fantastic job, and we set ourselves a target of being in the top-10 by the rest day. Not only have we achieved this, we also find ourselves in seventh place, which is simply amazing.”

The crew will face Saudi Arabia’s so-called Empty Quarter next. This fearsome slice of desert has a reputation as one of the most desolate places on the planet, punctuated by seas of dunes. Six stages remain in the race, before Dakar 2023 concludes in the city of Dammam on 15 January.

Follow the Dakar journey on Facebook and Instagram.

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