ZIMBABWEAN motor racing driver, Conrad Rautenbach got his Dakar Rally campaign off to a promising start after finishing a respectable 15th out of 77 competitors in the first stage of the off-road endurance race in the north-eastern Argentinean city of Resistencia on Monday.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Driving alongside experienced South African navigator, Rob Howie, Rautenbach, who is part of the South Africa-based Red Bull Toyota Hilux Gazoo Racing squad, finished the 38,5km Asuncion-Resistencia special stage in 27 minutes, 40 seconds.
The focus of most Zimbabwean motorsport enthusiasts was on Rautenbach, who is aiming to finish in the top 10 in his first Dakar Rally campaign.
“My goal is to finish my first Dakar,” Rautenbach said before the start of this year’s Dakar Rally campaign.
“I’m very fortunate to have a lot of experienced people around me, so finishing in the top 10 would be a great achievement, but I really need to have a clean run and gather experience. Speed won’t be the issue, I just need to get used to stages of over 400km and maintain that pace, so the trick will be finding a good rhythm – I hope this Dakar will be the first of many, but first I have to finish,” he said.
The 33-year-old former South African Rally champion was two minutes, nine seconds slower than his teammate, seasoned Qatari driver, Nasser Al-Attiyah, who claimed the first stage victory to storm into early contention for a hat-trick of Dakar Rally titles.
Al-Attiyah (46), the 2011 and 2015 Dakar Rally winner, got his 2017 campaign off to a superb start, as he completed the first stage 24 seconds quicker than former world rally champion Xevi Pons of Spain.
Pons’ fellow Spaniard Nani Roma was third in another made-in-South Africa Toyota, a further five seconds off the pace.
Nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb was sixth – 55secs behind Al-Attiyah – while last year’s champion Stephane Peterhansel crossed the line in 12th, 1min and 34secs adrift of the leader.