Giniel De Villiers of South Africa and Marc Coma of Spain wrapped up overall victory in the Dakar Rally following Saturday’s final special stage.
De Villiers won the car section and Coma triumphed among the motorcyclists following a final 227km special from Rioja to Cordoba to take the honors in the race’s 30th edition.
They then confirmed their victories by safely negotiating their way through the final liaison, which took them into the Argentine capital, two weeks after they left.
De Villiers, driving for Volkswagen, led teammate Mark Miller of the US by 2 minutes, 20 seconds going into the final special and increased his advantage to 8 minutes, 59 seconds to emerge on top for a maiden win by a diesel-powered vehicle.
It was his and Volkswagen’s first win in the event and also the first by an African driver.
Ironically, it came after the race was switched from Africa following the cancelation of last year’s edition following a terrorist attack in Mauritania that left four French tourists dead.
“It’s absolutely incredible. I have never felt such emotion,” said De Villiers, who had finished second in 2006 and who admitted to feeling “very nervous over the final kilometers” with victory in sight.
“I couldn’t stop counting up how many kilometers remained. I am really happy for the team, for Volkswagen, who have backed us for five years to achieve this win,” he said.
Miller said he was delighted.
“The team won and that was our goal. It’s really awesome. Finishing second is great. It could have been Giniel or me; that’s the race,” the American said. “I am still young and I will have plenty more opportunities to win this raid.”
Volkswagen only entered the Dakar series in 2006 and in scoring its first success ended a seven-year streak for Mitsubishi.
Carlos Sainz, also of Volkswagen, and Qatari Nasser Al Attiyah of BMW had set the pace early, but following the sixth stage Al Attiyah was disqualified for having skipped official control points.
Then in Thursday’s 12th stage, Spaniard Sainz, who had pocketed six stages, had to pull out after his vehicle tumbled down a ravine.
Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel and his Mitsubishi teammates, and fellow former winners Luc Alphand and Hiroshi Masuoka, all pulled out in the first week.
De Villiers said he had feared he would finish in third place before the 12th stage turning point, which saw Sainz exit and Miller lose time.
“The 12th leg was the crucial day. Just before it I’d thought we’d be finishing in third place,” the South African said. “But I kept thinking about how Peterhansel lost the rally with a huge lead one day before the finish in 2003. The Touareg [his vehicle] was running like a charm. That was the key to success.”
KTM rider Coma, champion in 2006, suffered a bad fall on the final day in 2007 to lose out.
This year, he won the opening special on Jan. 3 and then captured the third and fourth stages to put himself ahead of French title holder Cyril Despres, who endured tire problems and a fall to see his challenge fade early on.
“It was a tough race,” said Coma, who beat Despres by 1hr 25 minutes, 38 seconds. “There were so many race days and a lot of work so I’m really happy. We didn’t know the terrain too well and so it was difficult to set down tactics.”
Despite being vanquished, Despres said the finale was “a great finish, just like a Tour de France finish on the Champs-Elysees.”