Despite being injured, Branch’s determination sees him claim a third place.
Most people didn’t know who Ross Branch was before Monday afternoon, but that all changed when Botswana’s multiple South African cross country champion rode his KTM to a shock Dakar Saudi Arabia second day victory.
Branch’s glory was short lived as the Kalahari Ferrari took a tumble, separating his shoulder, severing the tip of a finger and damaging his KTM.
Undeterred, Ross got up with the help of rival Pablo Quintanilla, dusted himself off and rode his buckled machine the 350km home to the finish.
Most would have written Branch off by then, but he’s a tough cookie and lined up 46th yesterday morning, claiming that he would “ease into it”. Branch was, however, 26th by the first waypoint, 21st at the second, 14th and then seventh at the final timing point, before storming into the finish in an incredible third.
From a southern African point of view, South African KTM lady riders Taye Perry and Kirsten Landman were 60th and 70th, Zimbabwe’s Graeme Sharp (KTM) 67th and no assistance Original class man Stuart Gregory rode in 84th. Overall, Perry sits 66th, Landman 71st, Gregory 72nd and Sharp 83rd.
Yesterday’s 453km stage from Neom to Al-Ula was a busy one for the cars. Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel overcame the challenges of taking English instructions from Portuguese notes man Paulo Fiuza and a tough couple of days in the office, to move his Mini buggy into the lead midway through the day’s stage. He then stormed to a powerful Day 4 win over 2019 Dakar winner Nasser Al Attiyah’s South African Gazoo Toyota Hilux and double world Rally and Dakar champion Carlos Sainz in another Mini buggy.
Local Saudi hero Yazeed Al Rajhi (Hilux) ended fourth on the day ahead of Frenchman Mattieu Serradori, who had run in the top 10 for most of the day en route to fifth in his SA-built Century-Corvette buggy and SA hero Giniel de Villiers, who bounced back to sixth ahead of Dutch Gazoo Racing Toyota teammate Bernhard Ten Brinke. Mini men Pole Jakub Przygonski and Argentine Orlando Terranova were next up, with former double F1 world champion Fernando Alonso provisionally 10th in the fourth factory Hilux.
Overall leader Sainz now holds a diminished three-minute lead over Al Attiyah with Peterhansel now two positions up to third and nine minutes closer to his teammate. Al Rajhi is now fourth from Terranova, Serradori, De Villiers and Ten Brinke.
The two South African Red-Lined Nissan Navaras continued to deliver their drivers the ultimate adventure as Pretoria men Hennie de Klerk and Johan Smalberger were running 28th in their TreasuryOne version and Englishman Thomas Bell 48th in his Sabertooth machine.