Toyota looking good for 2/3 finish on Dakar 18
Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa Team’s duo of Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, and Giniel de Villiers emerged relatively unscathed from a dramatic penultimate stage of the Dakar Rally between San Juan and Córdoba. They will head into the short final special stage in second and third places in the overall standings after Al-Attiyah carded his fourth fastest stage time of the event and Toyota’s fifth.
The two-time winner and French navigator Matthieu Baumel began the penultimate 369km stage trailing leader Carlos Sainz by 1hr 05min 55sec. They were the first crew on the road in their Toyota Hilux, but stopped 19km after the start of the shorter opening section with minor issues before retaking the track with the loss of several minutes.
The Qatari recovered well, however, and reached the end of section one 1min 39sec behind leaders Bernhard Ten Brinke and French co-driver Michel Périn, who had begun the competitive section from fifth on the road. Al-Attiyah went on to set the fastest time of 2hr 53min 44sec to reduce Sainz’s lead to 46min 18sec. De Villiers and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz were 7min 31sec adrift after getting stuck in fesh-fesh trying to avoid a motorcycle rider, but the Toyota teams were topping the stage standings and their cause was helped when second-placed Stéphane Peterhansel had an accident and ceded 57min 07sec at the end of the first part of the stage.
The Frenchman’s delay lifted Al-Attiyah into a virtual second overall and Ten Brinke and De Villiers into third and fourth positions. A long liaison joined the two competitive sections that constituted the day’s action, but it was not a good climax to the day for Ten Brinke, who retired from the event with technical issues. Al-Attiyah held on to set the fastest time of 5hrs 02min 22sec to strengthen his hold on second place. De Villiers was third, 13min 06sec behind the Qatari, and consolidated the third podium position. Tomorrow, what has been a particularly demanding South American Dakar concludes with a short loop stage of 120km, held to the northwest of Córdoba, which is reported to include around 30 river crossings and some tricky navigation over soil and gravel surfaces.
Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah said: “I’m very happy with this stage win. It was a very hard day with many kilometres, but our Toyota Hilux, once again, demonstrated its reliability and competitiveness. We must also not forget that this is a new car and this is the debut on the Dakar. I am really proud of all the work done by the team. I also have thoughts for Bernhard who deserved more at the end of the rally. With what has happened today, we have seen that anything can still happen to the end, so we have to keep our focus tomorrow.”
Giniel de Villiers said: “It was a really difficult day, especially the first 120km this morning. It was one of the specials that I have never done before. Until 10km from the end, everything was okay for us but, in an area of fesh-fesh, a biker fell and I ended up on the bike without hitting the rider. But we lost six or seven minutes with this incident. We also finished the first section with a misfire and we also had that in the second part, so I am glad to finish today.”
Bernhard Ten Brinke said: “It’s obviously not the end of the rally that I imagined, especially since we were out to tackle a beautiful special today. All I can say it that this is motor sport and this kind of thing can happen. It’s not nice to go through. But I prefer to manage what we achieved with Michel and the entire team with only three days of testing beforehand. We were on the verge of finishing a great Dakar. But we will come back next year to take our revenge.”
Friday 19th January / San Juan-Cordoba / 368 km of stage
1. Al Attiyah-Baumel (Toyota Hilux)
3. De Villiers-Von Zitzewitz (Toyota Hilux) + 13’06’’
2. Al Attiyah-Baumel (Toyota Hilux) + 46’18’’
3. De Villiers-Von Zitzewitz (Toyota Hilux) + 1h20’00’’