Quintin van Jaarsveld
Stuart Gregory is on course to make history after conquering the gruelling Afriquia Merzouga Rally in Morocco on Friday.
After five days of racing in the desert of southern Morocco, with varying stages of around 2-300km long, the Port Edward privateer took a giant leap toward realising his lifelong dream of competing in the Dakar by finishing the qualifying rally in an impressive 33rd place after a total of 21 hours, 31 minutes and 19 seconds in the saddle.
“Qualifying for the Dakar is an amazing feeling,” the 40-year-old told eHowzit.
“I’m super proud of my result. I did better than I expected and all my hard work has paid off. It was a great learning experience and I’m so grateful I got to go.”
As a make-or-break race in terms of keeping his Dakar dream alive, Gregory admitted to feeling the pressure of the occasion. That he pulled it off in style probably topped his other career highlights, which include two Roof of Africa Gold finishes and finishing the Red Bull Romaniacs, Sea to Sky, International Six Days Enduro and Amagezi Rallye.
“I was very nervous on the last stage. A rider crashed in front of me and broke both collarbones. That’s when reality hit me. I took it really easy, which cost me two overall positions, and I was very excited and relieved when I crossed the finish line.”
The unforgiving rally, known as the Road to Dakar, incorporated many stages of past Dakars such as the arrivals at Er-Rachidia, Ouarzazate and Goulmine, demanding dunes made all the more unforgiving by the Morrocan desert elements.
“Racing in the dunes for the first time was hectic,” said Gregory. “It was hard to see the slopes at midday because of the sun, and also to know what was on the other side of the dune.
“I got stuck lots of times and found out I need to work on my legs specifically.”
The reigning KwaZulu-Natal senior enduro champion had an injury-free race but nevertheless had his share of setbacks.
“I made a huge rookie error and loaded my road book wrong. Luckily, I managed to get hold of another rider’s road book and loaded it onto my bike and finished the stage. That was another big lesson learned.
“Overall, it was a fantastic experience. Now the long, hard journey starts to get me to the Dakar.”
Having earned his place in the Dakar, Gregory now has to raise roughly R1.2-million in order to make it to the start line.
If he succeeds, he’ll become the first South Coast rider to compete in the world renowned race.
Being a macadamia farmer and an off-road bike fanatic, Gregory has launched the Nuts4Dakar campaign to fund his Dakar journey.
“‘The hardest part of Dakar is getting to Dakar’ is advice I was given from a competitor who I met at the Dakar this year… it’s a massive amount of money. I’m very lucky to have support in helping with my presentation and website to get it up and running.
“I’m hoping to get sponsors to realise my dream. As far as I’m aware, I’ll be the first locally-based South Coaster to go to Dakar, so I’m hoping for support from local businesses.”
To support Gregory, contact him on 082 770 4727. Visit www.nuts4dakar.co.za for more information and follow Gregory’s quest on Instagram at nut4dakar.