- SA’s David Thomas in Morocco race top 20
- Door to Dakar 2017 wide open for Cape biker
- Eighth place in the race’s Dakar Challenge
By ELZA THIART-BOTES
CAPE TOWN, South Africa – South African privateer biker David Thomas is back home here after testing his mettle and metal in a “tough and challenging” Afriquia Merzouga Rally in North Africa.
He was 18th in the Pro Motorcycle class over May 21-27 in what was his second international Rally Raid – he was 10th in Abu Dhabi earlier.
Kevin Benavides, a professional rider for the Honda factory team, won the Merzouga race which is part of the Dakar Challenge in which competitors can – as Thomas did – win entry to the January 2017 Dakar.
Thomas was eighth in the Challenge after an up-and-down event with daily temperatures beyond 40°C; although he didn’t win he can now enter the Dakar Rally without going through the selection process.
Many seasoned Dakar Rally riders used this the sixth Merzouga Rally to gain dune-riding experience for next year’s desert race.
CASE OF FOOD-POISONING?
The Merzouga started quite well for Thomas and his Husqvarna 450 Rally Replica in the HT Rally Raid Team as he posted 10th-fastest in the three-kilometre prologue that determined the start order for the first of five race days. He was, however, violently ill (possibly food poisoning) and struggled through the Stage 1 to finish “drained and with no stamina”.
He eventually completed the stage 12th but was penalised for missing two way points so was 34th for the day in the Pro Class. However he tackled Stage 2 refreshed and determined to better his results – which he did! He made up 10 places on the overall classification by finishing the stage 16th.
The next day (Stage 3) was the first marathon stage in which riders must race for two days without the a service crew – just as in the Dakar. They had to conserve tyres and bikes to get through the next days’s racing.
EXPENSIVE NAVIGATION ERROR
Intense sandstorms shortened Stage 3 and Thomas posted his best result – eighth – which pushed him up a few more places to 18th overall.
After a night in a desert bivouac the South African was eager and ready to further improve his position but, looking back, admitted he pushed too hard and failed on navigation – two more missed way points that had to be repeated and no improvement on placing.
The final stage was a mass start with racing in the dunes where anything could go wrong. Thomas made sure he completed this event – he finished the stage with the 14th-fastest time to stay on course on his ‘Journey To Dakar’ – a secure entry.
EXPERIENCE – AND MUCH-NEEDED EXPERIENCE
He told The Corner in a media release: “To finish in the top 20 against some of the world’s best was not too bad for a rookie though I was disappointed by my mistakes. I’ve learned some valuable lessons and gained much-needed experience for the Dakar.”
The Hout Bay entrepreneur will now focus on finding sponsors for Dakar 2017. Anybody out there able to help?
Follow David Thomas on his Facebook page ‘Journey to Dakar’ (@Journeytodakar)