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South African driver De Villiers wins Dakar Rally

2009-01-18 06:20:57 GMT2009-01-18 14:20:57 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

BUENOS AIRES, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) -- Dakar Rally veteran Giniel De Villiers from South Africa tasted the sweetness of victory in the world's most grueling race on Saturday.

The 36-year-old from the pioneer town of Stellenbosch, 50km from Cape Town and at the centre of the country's wine producing region, became the first African to win the event.

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 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.

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.

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

He then turned his attentions to off-road racing in his native country before joining the Dakar as a Nissan driver from 2003-2005with a best-placed fourth spot in his final season.

In 2006, he moved to Volkswagen and on Saturday handed the German manufacturers their first Dakar title.

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