Branch thrills at Dakar Rally

Isaac Pheko - BG reporter
Tuesday, 22 January 2019
Branch thrills at Dakar Rally

Botswana is now home to one of the finest cross-country motorcycle racers in the world. The locally bred rider has won the respect and admiration of both his peers and motorsport fans across the world with his courageous and heroic performance at the ongoing Dakar rally.

Branch who has been showing his gifts on the saddle in local and regional off road race events has now become a world beater. By press time Branch is  expected to have completed the gruelling 10 000 km race across Peru in the Top 20. Having started at position 137 out of 140 racers, Branch’s riding experience, ambition and talent saw him rising through the ranks and made it into his targeted Top 20 half way into the race.

At some point the local hero even made it to the Top 10. A gearbox failure in Stage 3 could have cost the rider a position in the Top 10. Nevertheless, Branch has made a lasting impact at the Dakar having been named the best of the rookies competing in this year’s race. Having grown up in the sandy Jwaneng area and consistently competing in the 1000km Toyota Desert Race, Branch came into the Dakar with a massive advantage and surprised many Dakar followers.

A good result and personal glory will mean a great deal for the local rider in terms of recognition and attracting international sponsors. Despite his success and exceeding expectations at Dakar, Branch left for Peru in a shoe string P1,8 million budget, having to take a loan to supplement the funds. A top 20 finish on his debut is likely to see the rider securing international sponsors like the KTM team he is riding for. The rider’s stock will be expected to go up in the international cross-country racing scene. Furthermore, it will not be only Branch who benefits from Dakar glory, having flown the Botswana flag at the biggest motorsport race in the world will see a spotlight shining in Botswana and its motorsport activities.

Before leaving for Dakar, Branch said he intended to lure some of the top riders to the TDR 1000km, which was confirmed for Selibe Phikwe this year. Attracting international riders and racing teams will be a much-needed boost to tourism and local motorsports. Meanwhile, the last two stages of the Dakar were the most challenging of the race where a mass start of cars, truck, quads and bikes. Branch described the penultimate stage as one of the scariest and most challenging when he races against trucks with limited visibility. In  an  interview  this  week , the  first  Motswana  to  compete  at the Dakar Vincent  Crosbie  said Branch  has  proven  that  he  can  race  with the  top  guys  in the  world. Crosbie managed to finish the Dakar in 2017.

“The race is demanding both mentally and physically especially in the last two days. I think he is currently an hour off but with a bit of luck he might end up in the top 10 if some of the riders in front of him do not finish,” Crosbie said. The rider who plans to return to the Dakar in 2020 said Branch has a decent backing and he has been to last year’s Dakar race as a spectator.  Ross has always been an outstanding rider and at some point, he was lying in the 13th position. Furthermore, Crosbie said for both him and Branch it has been a long-term dream to finish the Dakar and represent Botswana. Nevertheless, Crosbie said securing government sponsorship remains   a challenge even though it is clear that there are talented riders in the country.

The local rider said both Botswana Motorsport (BMS) and the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) are not in a position to fund riders for an event like the Dakar. Crosbie further explained that Branch’s performance at the Dakar is likely to get him noticed by international companies at the event. Quizzed on whether Dakar exposure will draw international riders to local events like the TDR, Crosbie said this is highly unlikely. “International riders are drawn to events that run for six or seven days. It will be expensive for us to attract them to the TDR.”

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