Collin Matiza, Sports Editor
IT will be all work and no play for the next two weeks for Zimbabwe’s Graeme Sharp as he tackles the most challenging rally event on earth and second biggest motorsports competition after the World Formula One (F1) Championship — the Dakar Rally.
The 2020 Dakar Rally, dubbed the biggest adventure of the year, will be hosted by Saudi Arabia for the first time this year after the organisers decided to move it from Latin America to the rich Middle East country and Sharp will be out to become the first Zimbabwean rider to finish the Dakar on a motorbike.
This year’s Dakar Rally has been slated to run from this coming Sunday to January 17 and Zimbabwe will, for the second time in the history of this gruelling 13-day motor rallying event, be represented by one of its top motor rally drivers Conrad Rautenbach and biker Sharp, who will be making his debut appearance in this tough event.
Sharp arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for the Dakar Rally on New Year’s Day when his flight landed early in the morning at 3:30am and Wednesday was a day of rest and unpacking.
Yesterday Sharp was expected to do a “shakedown”, which is a 13km loop testing his bike out on, and making sure all is spot on. He was also expected to have a massage and have a mechanic refresher.
Grant Mitchell, who is Sharp’s fitness trainer, has accompanied the 33-year-old biker in his bid to be the first Zimbabwean rider to finish the Dakar on a motorbike!
Sharp will be riding an all-new KTM 450 Rally Replica bike during this year’s Dakar Rally. He is part of the BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team which is based in the Netherlands.
Sharp will be flying the Zimbabwean flag at this year’s Dakar Rally together with one of the country’s top motor rally drivers, Rautenbach (35).
Rautenbach, who formerly competed in the World Rally Championship, made his presence felt during his debut appearance in the Dakar Rally in 2017 where he finished in ninth place in the vehicles section with the assistance of his South African co-driver Robert Howie.
He is now set to have a second dance with the Dakar Rally this month in Saudi Arabia where he will be having Portuguese Pedro Bianchi Prata as his co-driver.
They will be behind the wheel of PH Sport’s Zephyr for its first Dakar Rally entry.
Meanwhile, the organisers of the Dakar Rally have taken measures to crack down on illegal navigational aids and practices ahead of the 2020 edition of the marathon.
The initiative, spearheaded by new rally director David Castera, comes as a result of continued suspicions that teams have been able to circumvent the regulations regarding navigation in the last few editions of the marathon through the use of various tools.
According to Motorsport.com, in a hitherto unprecedented measure, the top 25 cars in the first Saudi Arabia-based edition of the event will have two video cameras installed in their cockpits that will record each given stage with the aim of monitoring whether any competitors are using prohibited electronic devices or other ways of easing the navigational challenge.
Teams are specifically forbidden from using radio transmitters and receivers, satellite links and data transmission systems, unless they have been provided by the organiser or otherwise specifically authorised.
The cameras for monitoring will be powered by the car’s batteries and have been tested by Castera and his team in the last few months.
In addition, article 28P1.3 of the regulations for the Cars/Trucks/SxS classes now mandates that the 10 leading crews “must hand in their mobile phones” to be placed in a box, which will be sealed by a marshal at the start of the day’s running and can only be unsealed upon arrival to the end of the stage.