/ 17 January 2009

De Villiers victorious in Dakar Rally

South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and Spain’s Marc Coma wrapped up overall victory in the Dakar Rally following Saturday’s final special stage ahead of an untimed liaison triumphant ride to Buenos Aires.

De Villiers won the auto section and Coma triumphed among the motorcyclists following a final 227km special from Rioja to Cordoba to take the honours in the race’s 30th edition, which decamped for security reasons from Africa to South America this year with great success.

De Villiers, driving for Volkswagen, led teammate Mark Miller of the United States by two minutes 20 seconds going into the final special and increased his advantage to eight minutes and 59 seconds to emerge exultant.

”It’s absolutely incredible. I have never felt such emotion,” said De Villiers, who had finished second in 2006 and who admitted to feeling ”very nervous over the final kilometres” with victory in sight.

”I couldn’t stop counting up how many kilometres remained,” admitted the first African champion — ironic, given the race was unable to go ahead on his home continent after last year’s edition was scrapped on security grounds.

”I have to say it’s an incredible feeling. I am really happy for the team, for Volkswagen, who have backed us for five years to achieve this win,” De Villiers added.

The German marque only entered the Dakar world in 2006 and in scoring its first success ended a seven-year streak for Mitsubishi.

Carlos Sainz, also of Volkswagen, and Qatari Nasser Al Attiyah of BMW had been the early pace-setters but following the sixth stage, Al Attiyah was disqualified for having skipped official control points.

Then in Thursday’s 12th stage, Spaniard Sainz, who had pocketed six stages, had to pull out after his vehicle tumbled down a ravine.

Sainz, who was competing in his third Dakar, with his best showing a ninth-placed finish in 2007, was the latest in a long line of big names forced out of this year’s race.

Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel and his Mitsubishi teammates and fellow former winners Luc Alphand and Hiroshi Masuoka all pulled out in the first week.

KTM rider Coma, champion in 2006, suffered a bad fall on the final day last year to lose out. This year, he won the opening special on January 3 and then captured the third and fourth stages to put himself ahead of French title holder Cyril Despres, who endured tyre problems and a fall to see his challenge fade early on.

This year’s race was marred by the death of French rider Pascal Terry, who was found dead early on January 7 three days after he suffered an accident and disappeared during the second stage. — AFP