BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
TWO-TIME African Rally champion Conrad Rautenbach shone like a beacon at the just-ended 2020 Dakar Rally, where he narrowly missed a place on the podium after finishing fourth overall, while compatriot Graeme Sharp became the first Zimbabwean to finish the competition on a bike.
Zimbabwe had two representatives at the event, which was being held in Saudi Arabia for the first time.
Dakar Rally, which is the biggest off-road endurance event in the world, roared into life on January 5 and came to a conclusion yesterday.
Rautenbach, who finished an impressive ninth in his debut appearance at the competition, resultantly being voted Rookie of the Year in 2017, was gunning for the championship this time around.
But the 35-year-old Zimbabwean, alongside Portuguese co-driver Pedro Bianchi Prata in their PH-Sport buggy, could only settle for fourth place out of 41 drivers in the SSV category.
The Zimbabwean, who has competed at the World Rally Championships, was 1 hour 12 minutes behind class winner American Casey Currie at the end of the gruelling 12 stages, covering almost 7 900km.
Russian Sergei Kariakin and Francisco Lopez Contardo, from Chile, completed the podium, finishing second and third, respectively.
Toyota sponsored Rautenbach at the Dakar rally.
Sharp also achieved his dream of becoming the first local bike rider to finish the tough rally after he finished overall 74th in debut appearance.
The 33-year-old, who was riding for Bas Dakar KTM Racing team, immediately took to Facebook to celebrate his milestone.
“Guys, we made it! I didn’t think this day would come, but it’s here and I feel very honoured and privileged — what an amazing feeling! Back in #Zimbabwe, I think we are going through our own Dakar and it’s pretty tough — but the wheels keep turning and we will get to the end. So grateful for this opportunity and thank you everyone who helped me on #mydakarsafari!” he wrote.
The Dakar Rally bike section registered 147 entrants this year and Sharp did not have the best of starts after finishing the first stage in position 115.
But the rally bike racer gradually improved during the course of the event producing his best ride in Stage 4, where he finished 69th, while he achieved position 83th in the final stage yesterday.
American Ricky Brabec won the bike class, while Chilean Pablo Quintanilla was second and defending champion Australian Toby Price settled for third.