Johannesburg property developer Mark Corbett and Pretoria businessman Francois Jordaan pulled off one of their greatest achievements in what have already been successful off road racing careers when they crossed the finish line of the Dakar Rally in the Peruvian capital Lima on Sunday afternoon.
Driving a privately-funded and privately-built two-wheel drive buggy powered by a V8 Toyota engine, they conquered the world's longest and toughest motor race at their first attempt together, finishing a remarkable 24th overall after 13 special stages and more than 4 000 kilometres of racing and 4 000 kilometres in Argentina, Chile and Peru.
The South African privateers started the ultra marathon in Mar del Plata in Argentina on January 1 in 60th place and ran as high as 17th after special stage three in Argentina. The incessant punishment meted out by the harsh conditions took their toll over the 15 days. These included high-speed stages through desert scrubland, dry river beds and canyons, maximum temperatures above 40 degrees Centigrade in the Atacama Desert and a high altitude (4 700 metres above sea level) crossing of the Andes Mountains in sub-zero temperatures.
The Century Racing CR4 buggy stood up to the punishment remarkably well. Team manager Julien Hardy, designer of the car, was full of praise for the driver and co-driver as well as the small technical team of fellow-South Africans that looked serviced the car at the end of each stage and prepared it for the next day's challenge.
"Words like relentless, gruelling, tough and tenacity take on a whole new meaning on the Dakar," said a delighted Corbett at the finish in the Plaza de Armas in Lima. "I've watched the Dakar Rally on television for many years and it's always been my dream to compete in this great race. It has been a privilege and an unforgettable experience.
"To finish the Dakar is an achievement all on its own, but to do so in our own car with our own support team is something of which I am immensely proud. We couldn't have done it without our wonderful back-up crew, which included my father, Ernest, and mother, Gaye.
"Francois did a great job of keeping us on the route, which was a difficult task with our having to find hidden way points each day. This has been almost a life-changing experience and I can't wait to come back and do it all again."
Corbett and Jordaan competed in the two-wheel drive class of the top T1 car category and were classified fourth in the class and third among the petrol-engined cars.
The event was won by France's Stephane Peterhansel in a four-wheel drive diesel Mini from Spain's Nani Roma in a similar car and South African winner of the 2009 Dakar Rally Giniel de Villiers in a Toyota Hilux. Duncan Vos was 11th in a sister Hilux.
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