Holding off a late charge from his closest challenger, South African driver Giniel de Villiers took fifth place overall at the Dakar Rally as the two-week race came to a close in Argentina on Saturday.
De Villiers, who won the annual contest in 2009, finished fifth on the 12th and final stage between Rio Cuarto and Buenos Aires, covering the 64km timed section just 30 seconds slower than French stage winner Sebastien Loeb.
Though it was his worst finish in seven years at the prestigious event, De Villiers brushed off multiple punctures and a fuel pressure problem to delivered another solid performance with German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz, securing a top-five finish for the 11th time in his career.
He was well behind Toyota Gazoo Racing SA teammate Nani Roma of Spain, who finished fourth, but he managed to hold off Argentine Orlando Terranova (Mini), who ended sixth, by less than three minutes.
“We knew ‘Orly’ was close, and we both raced as hard as we could on stage 11,” De Villiers said.
“But I ended the day holding onto a small advantage, and on stage 12 we managed to extend that and retain our fifth place overall.”
French driver Stephane Peterhansel won the race for the 13th time (cars and bikes), edging out compatriot Loeb to lead a Peugeot clean sweep of the podium.
Zimbabwean driver Conrad Rautenbach and South African co-driver Rob Howie finished ninth overall, with three locally built Toyota Gazoo cars finishing among the top 10, despite early leader Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar withdrawing due to a battered suspension.
Rautenbach, making his Dakar debut, received the Rookie of the Year award.
Meanwhile, on the bikes, Joey Evans was the only SA rider to complete the race.
Evans was 95th of 97 finishers, while countrymen David Thomas and Walter Terblanche were among 34 riders who did not complete the race, which was won by KTM team member Sam Sunderland of Great Britain.
South African co-driver Sean Berriman joined German teammates Mathias Behringer and Stefan Henken (MAN) in finishing 36th of the 40 vehicles that completed the contest in the truck division.