IT’S so far so good for Conrad Rautenbach at the 2017 Dakar Rally.

The Zimbabwean motor racing driver and two-time African rally champion was first declared the best-placed rookie during the opening stages of the tough 13-day Dakar Rally, which revved off on January 2 in the Paraguayan city of Asuncion.

And after Stage Three of the toughest and longest race on earth, it was very clear that the 32-year-old Zimbabwean rally driver was not at Dakar to make up the numbers.

He was a few minutes behind the leading pack of former World Rally champion Sebastian Loeb and ex-Dakar Rally champion Stephane Peterhansel — both from France.

Rautenbach’s best stage finish was in Stage Seven when he finished sixth and moved up to position 11 on the overall standings.

Eighty-nine vehicles started the rally on January 2 and 36, including Rautenbach’s Toyota Hilux, are still in the running after Stage Eight.

It hasn’t been easy for the Dakar Rally organisers either.

Stage Six was cancelled due to bad weather and just yesterday, Stage Nine had to be re-routed after massive mudslides in Argentina.

But the Zimbabwean rally “hotshot” Rautenbach is still in the running in the 2017 Dakar Rally, with only four stages to go before the curtain comes down on this event in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Rautenbach enjoyed another positive run to ninth for the day, to move up one place to 13th in the overall standings, albeit almost four hours down on the leaders.

A podium finish maybe out of reach, but not impossible for the first Zimbabwean at the 9 000km-long 2017 Dakar Rally.

“My strategy is to maintain a good pace, learn as much as I can and aim to finish the rally,” Rautenbach said.

Meanwhile, Frenchman Loeb topped Stage Eight of the 2017 Dakar Rally on Tuesday, retaking the lead of the event from Peugeot teammate Peterhansel.

The Tuesday test, spanning from Bolivia’s Uyuni to Argentina’s Salta, was meant to feature a timed section of 492km, split by a neutralised zone on the border between the two countries.

However, the Bolivian part of the special was shortened as a result of continued rainfall, trimming the timed stage by 73km.

Reigning event winner Peterhansel, first in the running order, was fastest at the first two waypoints — but a short stoppage cost him time against Loeb and allowed the WRC legend to move past him on the road ahead of the neutralised zone.

In the Argentinian section, Loeb continued gaining ground and was five minutes up on Peterhansel at one stage.

He dropped some time late on as a result of a puncture, but still ended up over three minutes clear on the day, which was enough for him to take the lead of the rally.

Both Loeb and Peterhansel again pulled away from their nearest rivals Cyril Despres (Peugeot) and Nani Roma (Toyota).

Whereas Despres managed to limit his losses and now sits 17 minutes off the rally lead, Roma had a tough time, dropping to fourth overall as Peugeot’s 1-2-3 was reinstated.

Mikko Hirvonen once again led the X-Raid Mini contingent, completing the stage eight minutes behind Loeb, whereas Giniel de Villiers was 12 minutes down as the quickest Toyota. — Agencies.

You Might Also Like