Zimbabwean biker sets sight on finishing Dakar Rally
GRAEME Sharp says he will tackle the trails of the legendary Dakar rally with respect, under no illusion of the calibre of competition that awaits him in Saudi Arabia, adding that victory for him is in finishing the race.
At least 137 motorbikes from 60 nationalities will battle for honours in the iconic event, widely regarded as the ultimate test of man and machine.
For Graeme, the second largest motorsport event in the world that navigates through fast and winding dunes is a culmination of four years of hard work, passion and determination.
Graeme understands the demands of the Dakar Rally and readily admits the field is simply too strong to be fighting for an overall win, or even a top 20 finish.
He says his greatest motivation will be to lift the Zimbabwean flag at end of the race – embodying the resilience of Zimbabweans who continue to overcome hard odds.
“KTM have won the event for 17 years in a roll. They throw probably a million dollars to every rider in their team. You have the entire brand backing them…they are gunning for the 20th consecutive win and are certainly not leaving anything on the table,” Graeme told journalists in Harare on Thursday.
“Honda, I understand, are throwing in even more money at it, to try and get a manufacturers podium. Those guys are full-time factory rally drivers; this is their day job,” Graeme continued.
“The top of the event is hugely competitive. Anyone in the top 25 can win the event…You are talking about a team that has a private training base in Morocco…They are literary riding Dakar-duration training rides, most of the year.”
“So yes, sure, there is a competitive spirit in me but I am also realistic of my abilities. I haven’t come from a professional contracted rider background. I am really just someone with a dream of finishing this race. The beauty of this is that 90 percent of the field are people like myself. It’s a common man’s adventure.“
“So we go there to fight to finish whereas the guys in the top 25 are being paid to win. That being said I want to make sure I race the best I can. I ride smooth, clean navigation, minimal penalties; I will get to the finish.”
Saudi Arabia’s desert will play host to the 7 500-km long adventure over 13 days of action and 12 stages.
Graeme qualified for Dakar Rally 2020 as part of the BAS Team, which has some of Southern Africa’s most accomplished off-road racers.
The team includes Ross Branch aka “The Kalahari Ferrari” who placed 13th overall in 2019 and was crowned the fastest ‘Dakar Rookie’.
It also includes Kirstin Landman, South Africa’s top female enduro racer and Kenny Gilbert, a multiple South Africa Cross Country Champion.
As far as doing his homework, Graeme has explored vast swathes of southern Africa, along the way stopping to take notes from former Dakar Rally motorcycle competitors.
He says the forays into the wilderness combined with previous races in North Africa, Mexico, Morroco and Spain have set him in good stead ahead of the toughest two week challenge of his life.
Zimbabwe’s off-road motorcycle rider who spent his childhood on a large cattle ranch near the town of Mvuma wants to use his Dakar experience to boost an already rich motorsport heritage in Zimbabwe.
Born and raised in the outdoors where exploration, adventure and motorcycles where the order of the day, the 32-year-old says the globally acclaimed off-road endurance event is as financially taxing as it is physically demanding.
He is, however, grateful to an array of companies and individuals who have poured in significant financial investment to get him to Dakar.
Graeme is still US$15 000 short to make make his dream a reality.
The total cost required to compete at the event is US$85 000. He has raised some of the money required through life savings and the financial support of corporates and individuals.
He is confident that a last gasp sponsorship package will come through from motorsport faithfuls or ordinary Zimbabweans who realise the need to back him in his Ultimate Test.
No Zimbabwean has ever competed at the prestigious race on a bike. Graeme is aiming to be the first.
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