After racing for almost a week and completing just over 4 400 kilometres, South Africa’s off-road quad rider, Hannes Saaijman (Team Rhide SA), has reached the Rest Day of the 2015 Dakar Rally at Iquique in Chile in South America. The 37th Dakar Rally started on 4 January at Buenos Aires (Argentina) and will finish there on 17 January after motorcycle and quad competitors have had completed a total of just over 9 500 kilometres through the toughest terrains in the world.

Team Rhide SA’s debut Dakar Rally did not start too well for Saaijman and his team-mate, Brian Baragwanath, with Baragwanath, who won his entry into the 2015 event by winning the 2014 Dakar Challenge event in Botswana, experiencing engine problems during the very first day. This meant that Saaijman had to tow him for 620 kilometres – 100 kilometres in the special racing stage and more than 500 kilometres on the road to the overnight bivouac where the service crew changed the engine on Baragwanath’s Yamaha Raptor. Both riders lost a lot of time and dropped down the starting order of a field of about 200 motorcycle and quad competitors.

They pushed hard to make up for lost time and Baragwanath was posting times on par with those of the top three fastest quad competitors at the first few waypoints. Both riders were slowed down by flat rear tyres. Baragwanath did his best racing with two flat rear tyres at one stage, but he was eventually forced to call it a day after he could not get over the dunes. Saaijman was carrying a spare tyre and had to make use it after he also had four flat wheels. He completed the day’s tough 685 kilometres.

ike Saaijman, who owns EMD Racing in Centurion, Baragwanath also runs his own workshop (BB Motorsport) in Centurion and he immediately became part of the back-up crew to support Saaijman for the rest of the race. Saaijman tackled the third stage and admitted that he was trying to make up lost time. This resulted in him again getting flat tyres, but he reached the finish to keep his 21st place overall.

At Stage Four, Saaijman was running in the second half of the quad field (33 of the 45 quad competitors who started the race, had reached Day Four), but he was leading the First Timers Class and he is still in the lead in this category.

Saaijman, who competed in 34 races during 2014 including two weeklong rally-raid events (the Namaqua African Rally and the Amageza Rally – he did this event on a motorcycle) as well as the Roof of Africa which he completed on his motorcycle, decided to change his strategy.

“The terrain is extremely rough and the dust is very, very bad,” he said from the Iquique bivouac in Chile. “The Dakar is not like racing anything we know back in South Africa and you have to approach it differently. That is what I decided to do,” the tough 32-year old Pretoria businessman said.

His strategy seemed to pay off as he finished Stage Four, the first stage in Chile, in 22nd place (he lost time due to electrical problems caused by the kill-switch wire that chafed through. He was now placed 19th in the quad category.


Early morning starts and long hours in the saddle did not hold him back and he posted the 13th fastest time of the quads after Stage Five’s 458 kilometres to move up to 16th place in this class.

Stage Six was the last stage before the Rest Day at Iquique in Chile and riders had to travel 322 kilometres on their motorcycles and quads to get to the start of the 318 kilometre special stage where a 50 kilometre dune section again formed part of the stage. “Stage Six was fast and rough,” Saaijman said afterwards. “At some places over the pans you could not hold on to the handlebars. It was also extremely dusty and the fesh-fesh* got into everything. My quad died again and I lost time looking for the problem. It was the ignition switch that was damaged by the dust,” he explained.

He still managed to post the ninth fastest time and this pushed him to the 11th place on the overall standings. At the Rest Day almost half the field has been eliminated and only 24 quads are still in the running. The Polish rider and former winner, Rafal Sonik, leads the quad category on his Yamaha Raptor.

During the Rest Day, Saaijman and his crew decided not to change engines as he was still satisfied with the quality of the current engine. They changed the axle (it was bent during the last stage); did an oil change and also replaced the chain and sprockets while they put new axle bearings, front hub bearings and seals on the Raptor.

The next two days will be a major test for Saaijman and the rest of the motorcycle and quad competitors as they will cross the border to Bolivia to tackle the **Marathon Stage. According to the race organisers, numerous difficulties will mark the first part of the Bolivian marathon stage. The long liaison section (396 kilometres) will mean an early start and will be followed by a gradual climb to a height of more than 3 500m. Once on the high plateau, the special stage will begin with instructions to follow the road book with great care in light of the large number of junctions on the route. One of the challenges of the day could be wear and tear on tyres. Once riders have arrived in Uyuni, the competitors will only have completed half the marathon stage.

There will be no service crews at the end of today’s seventh stage (Sunday, 11 January) and each rider will have to service and prepare his quad with the tools and parts he has with him. Working and preparing his own quad will be nothing new to Saaijman is usually his own ‘mechanic’ when racing in South Africa. He will be carrying a spare front wheel (this wheel can be used at the rear with a special adaptor) as well as a spare filter and the necessary tools to make sure his Yamaha Raptor is race-ready again for tomorrow.

Competitors will still have to do just over 5 100 kilometres in total of which about 3 000 kilometres will be special racing stages.

*Fesh-fesh: Very fine, powdery dust that gets into everything and blocks your vision if you are behind another competitor

**Marathon Stage: No service crew or back-up at the end of the stage and riders have to prepare their motorcycles and quads with the equipment, tools and parts they have with them.

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