Conrad gears for Dakar 2018

HARARE - Two-time African Rally champion Conrad Rautenbach is hoping to use the 2017 Africa Merzouga Rally in Morocco to sharpen his navigation skills ahead of the Dakar Rally 2018.

The gruelling six-day rally began yesterday and runs up to May 12 over five stages through the desert.

Rautenbach will be part of the UTV drivers who also include Carlos Checa and Camelia Liparoti.

The Merzouga Rally acts as a perfect training ground for competitors preparing them for the toughest rally race on the planet - the Dakar Rally.

The rally course is made of 1 200 kilometres of fully off road specials which poses a stiff challenge to the competitors with its dunes and rocky terrain.

He 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.

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

It did not take the 32-year-old driver much time to warm up to the race, finishing 14th on Super Stage 2 on Day2.

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 SS3 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 vehicle chassis.

He continued to fight 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.

Before late last year, the Zimbabwe rally driver had temporarily hung his helmet to help his father, Billy, run the Chisumbanje Ethanol Project, seen as one of Africa’s largest ethanol projects.

However, a chance to compete in the Rally Dakar 2017 drew him back to the sport that brought him fame when he won the African Rally Championship twice, in 2007 and 2011.

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