For the last three days, Dakar Rally fans have been glued to their screens in awe as riders are put to their paces in the unforgiving dunes of Peru. Southern African rally fans in particular have set their hopes on an athlete by the name of Ross Branch. Branch has built a strong reputation over the last three years as the regions fastest Cross Country rider.
He has dreamt of finishing the Dakar since he was five years old, and in a surreal moment set off for stage one on Monday with a 246km liaison and 84km special in store. A few issues with his ERFT GPS system saw him race with slightly more caution than usual as to avoid penalties. Despite this, he settled in comfortably to finish with a 43rd place overall.
“It was slightly nerve-racking off the start line, but I’m just relived to have gotten that first stage out the way! Navigation is actually easier than I thought it would be. Now it’s time to put my head down, focus on the good things and have some fun,” said Branch.
His nerves had clearly settled by the time the second stage rolled in, and Branch stormed the desert terrain to affirm his nickname as the ‘Kalahari Ferrari’. It was pulsating to track the rider over the 342km special as he moved up the ranks to finish the stage in an impressive 20th place.
With a tight grip on a comfortable 30th position overall, his Dakar journey was off to an extremely promising start. A technical challenge, however, brought Branch to an unexpected crossroad…
He had broken his 6th gear during the second stage – a problem that could only be fixed by replacing the engine. While the solution seemed simple enough, it came with a 15 minute penalty and ultimately the cost of 8 positions overall.
He debated changing the engine with the hope (and pressure) of making up 15 minutes, or playing it safe and riding the rest of the Rally with five gears.
“We decided to take the penalty and put a new engine in, which they worked on until 3AM this morning! It’s still a long Rally, and it just wasn’t worth risking engine failure at some point and throwing this opportunity away. Things like this happen at the Dakar, and we just have to work forward from here and give it our best shot. I’ll take it a bit easier today to run the new engine in,” explained Branch.
Branch was confident as he set off for another full day in the dunes. A 467km liaison awaits with a 331km special in store, which all kicked off at 14:04 for the orange star.