BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
ZIMBABWE motor rally star Conrad Rautenbach stormed home to an impressive third place finish in the second stage of the Dakar Rally in the Saudi Arabian city of Neom yesterday to move into contention for the coveted title in the SSV category of the world’s most gruelling motor rally competition.
Rautenbach, who is aiming for his maiden victory in his second Dakar Rally attempt, started the second day on 11th position overall after overcoming a tyre puncture on the first day to finish just outside the top 10 in the 45-man field on Sunday.
The 35-year-old two-time former African rally champion, who is accompanied by Portuguese co-driver Pedro Bianchi Prata behind the wheel of the French team PH Sport’s Zephyr, produced his best performance as he initially led the 214km stage before settling for third position.
The second stage was won by Chilean driver Francisco Lopez, while Spain’s Jose Antonio Hinojo Lopez finished second.
Rautenbach, who moved four places up the general classification to seventh position after yesterday’s second stage, said he was pleased with his performance and credited his team for the collective effort.
“We had a much better day today; the mechanics did a great job on the car last night and fine-tuned it to my liking,” Rautenbach told NewsDaySport after yesterday’s stage.
“Pedro also did a good job on the notes and we had a good stage finishing third. We were leading and then we had a puncture, but otherwise it was a good stage and it feels really good.
We had a comfortable pace throughout not going too fast as we wanted to look after the car. We are definitely looking forward to tomorrow and the rest of the rally,” Rautenbach said.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s other representative Graeme Sharp, who is making his debut in the bike section, finished 74th during yesterday’s second stage to finish in 100th overall in the 133-man field.
“Unfortunately, I received a 40-minute penalty yesterday when I missed a checkpoint. So I started at the back of the field today, but besides eating a lot of sand, I rode well and I think I finished in the top 75 for the stage which I am happy about,” Sharp said.