De Villiers comes good at last in Dakar rally

BUENOS AIRES - After years of flirting with Dakar success, South Africa's Giniel de Villiers, rally driver and fine wine connoisseur, was the toast of the world's most gruelling race on Saturday after winning the 2009 title.

BUENOS AIRES - After years of flirting with Dakar success, South Africa's Giniel de Villiers, rally driver and fine wine connoisseur, was the toast of the world's most gruelling race on Saturday after winning the 2009 title.

The 36-year-old from Stellenbosch in Western Cape, at the centre of the country's wine producing region, became the first African to win the event.

Ironically, it came in the year when the race, celebrating its 30th birthday, was shifted to South America because of the deteriorating security situation in Mauritania.

In five previous Dakar outings De Villiers, teased by teammates for his resemblance to pop star Robbie Williams, had been agonisingly close to the title.

He was second in 2006 while in 2007 he dominated before his Volkswagen Touareg slipped back to 11th place.

"We became hungrier an hungrier," said De Villiers at the start of the 2009 race here two weeks ago.

He thrived in the testing South American conditions while his closest rivals slipped up.

Teammate and former double world rally champion Carlos Sainz let victory slip away when his Volkswagen tumbled into a ravine on Thursday.

Defending champions Mitsubishi, who had won the previous seven editions, fared even worse with Stephane Peterhansel, Luc Alphand and Hiroshi Masuoka all retiring in the first week.

Qatar's world rally-raid champion Nasser Al-Attiyah in a BMW, and one of the early leaders, was disqualified after the sixth stage, a decision that briefly handed De Villiers the overall lead.

The South African started his career in his domestic touring car championship, a series he dominated from 1997-2000. - Sapa-AFP

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