Conrad finishes 9th on Dakar debut

HARARE - Two-time African Rally champion Conrad Rautenbach punched above his weight to belie his rookie status and overcome veterans of the dunes on his way to leaving an indelible mark at the 2017 Dakar Rally.

Competing for the first time in the gruelling contest, the rally driver from Zimbabwe manoeuvred with skill to finish as the first rookie home and ninth overall.

The honours went to Stephane Peterhansel, who held off stiff challenge from Peugeot team-mate Sebastien Loeb, to claim his 13th Dakar Rally title in Argentina on Saturday.

"...It was a good result for us. Exactly what we wanted. A clean rally...I am very, very happy. It's been a great experience for me," Rautenbach said from Buenos Aires after the race.

"For the future. I am not sure yet. First I need a small break ....then I will wait and see."

The Dakar Rally comprises a total of 12 stages covering over 8 500km of the most challenging terrain including deserts, high mountains and rocks.

It did not take 32-year-old driver much time to warm up to the race, finishing 14th on Super Stage 2 on Day 2.

He continued his ascendency finishing a respectable 12th position and was declared the best placed rookie driver to finish the endurance stage.

The Dakar Rally began to bite with Super Stage 3 one to forget for the Toyota racing team after leading driver Nasser Al Attiyah bowed out of the ultimate race due to structural damage to his vehicle’s chassis.

Rautenbach continued to fight from his corner to keep abreast of the chasing pack.

The Zimbabwean rally ace let rip on the final stretch of dirt to consolidate his overall position of ninth in the car category and top rookie.

Rautenbach’s performance in the second week of his first Dakar Rally was notably more consistent that in the first few stages, as he got to grips with rally-raid racing at its toughest.

Peterhansel, who has won the Dakar six times on bikes and now seven times in cars, beat Peugeot team mate and compatriot Loeb by five minutes.

Cyril Despres completed a one-two-three for the manufacturer.

"There were, in all, seven or eight drivers with a shot at victory. Halfway through the race there were only four left, and by the final week it was just Sebastien and me," Peterhansel said.

"Yesterday, it was decided by a flat tyre, and that was probably the turning point in this Dakar," added the champion, who thanked Peugeot for letting their drivers race without team orders.

Meanwhile, in the two-wheel category rider Sam Sunderland become the first Briton to win the Dakar Rally in any category.

Dubai-based Sunderland, on a KTM motorbike, beat Austrian team-mate Matthias Walkner by 32 minutes after the final 64km competitive stage in Rio Cuarto, Argentina.

He then rode 700km to the official finish in Buenos Aires, where he stood on top of the podium.

"Unbelievable. When I crossed the line I felt all the emotion hit me. The weight on my shoulders of the race over the last week, leading the rally has been really heavy," Sunderland said..

"It's the first Dakar I've ever finished and to finish first is an incredible feeling. I'm really lost for words.

"It's incredible to be the first Englishman. Hopefully we can create some English interest now, because so far they've not been reporting much, but I hope we can change that."

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