Toyota Gazoo Racing & Overdrive Racing dominated first week of 45th Dakar Rally
The Toyota Gazoo Racing and Overdrive Racing teams dominated the first week of the 45th Dakar Rally and the team reached the rest day in Riyadh with four cars inside the top five and Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah holding an outright lead of 1hr 03min 46sec.
On what has already been described as the toughest of all the Saudi Arabian Dakars, Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Mathieu Baumel won three of the eight selective sections between Yanbu and Riyadh and led the event from stage three. Their Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mates, Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings, are second overall in another DKR Hilux T1+.
Al-Attiyah said: “We have been really careful from the beginning. We have worked hard from the start. Now we need to try and be always top three for the points for the championship. Next week I will be at home (in the dunes). It will be like homeland. There will be a lot of dunes and we need to be careful and work day-by-day to see how the race is going.”
Brazil’s Lucas Moraes is tackling his first Dakar and he and German co-driver Timo Gottschalk have delivered consistent daily stage performances that have pushed them up to third place in an Overdrive Racing Toyota. Al-Attiyah’s other team-mates, Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy, are fifth overall at the rest day.
Local hero Yazeed Al-Rajhi had been as high as second overall during the first week before he and German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz lost time with wheel hub issues and slipped back to 19thafter eight stages in their Overdrive Racing car.
Argentinean driver Juan-Cruz Yacopini and Spanish co-pilot Daniel Oliveras have gradually climbed through the field as the week progressed and round off the top 10. Lionel Baud and French team-mate Remi Boulanger stayed clear of major dramas in their Overdrive Racing Toyota until they lost over half an hour on the eighth stage and hold 13th.
Paraguay’s Andrea Lafarja teamed up with Peruvian navigator Ashley Garcia Chavez in his Overdrive Racing Toyota and is classified in 54th.
Former Dakar rider Isidre Esteve Pujol once again drove an Overdrive Racing-built Toyota Hilux that is running under the Repsol Toyota Rally Team banner. The Spaniard teamed up with fellow countryman José-Maria Villalobos and is 28th overall.
Erik van Loon and French co-driver Sébastien Delaunay had been running well inside the top 10 at the start of the event, despite rolling on the Prologue and experiencing other sizeable delays during the first week. They battled their way back to 11th overall before being forced out of the event after a high-speed accident on the eighth stage gave van Loon a back injury.
Overdrive Racing’s managing director Jean-Marc Fortin said: “The new system in cross-country is not so bad. We are now back in Riyadh. From the beginning, the race has been very demanding and a hard Dakar. We know that the rest day is never a rest day. Maybe on Monday night we can have a chill out a little bit. We have managed to keep the leading places but we sadly lost Erik van Loon. All the tests he has done are alright, so he will come back stronger. We are now in the middle of a very difficult Dakar. There is a long way still to go.”
Sea Camp – Ha’il
A record 603 competitors, including 67 T1 cars, were permitted to start the 45th Dakar from a purpose-built bivouac and start venue at Sea Camp, on the Rea Sea coast near Yanbu.
Competitive action got underway with a timed Prologue stage of just 11km that would determine the start order for the first desert selective section of 368km that looped through the rocky deserts near Yanbu.
Defending champion Al-Attiyah came home in fourth, Al-Rajhi was seventh, Moraes got his first Dakar off to a solid start in 11th and Baud was 14th. But van Loon made a small mistake, rolled his Toyota with the loss of six minutes and plummeted to 155th.
Carlos Sainz managed to hold off Sébastien Loeb and Al-Rajhi to win the first desert stage to snatch the outright lead. Al-Rajhi was third quickest and moved into a similar position in the rankings, while Al-Attiyah was a solid sixth, Moraes slipped a place to 12th, Yacopini was 38th and van Loon climbed 100 places on the leader board to 55th.
After several days based at Sea Camp, the Dakar caravan moved north to the beautiful town of Al-Ula and competitors tackled a long and challenging second special of 431km. Punctures hampered many drivers but Toyota were the main beneficiaries of a cautious approach on the sharp rocks and Al-Attiyah pipped Van Loon to earn a 45th career Dakar stage win by just 14 seconds. The stage win enabled the Qatari to close to within 2min 12sec of leader Sainz.
Al-Attiyah said: “It was absolutely the time to attack and drive a good stage. It was not an easy day because I am sure a lot of problems will happen today because there were a lot of rocks and the navigation wasn’t easy. We had one flat tyre, one puncture at the beginning, but after that we tried to be really careful.”
A delighted Van Loon added: “What a day. We started 41st, so we overtook I don’t know how many cars, 30 or something. So, there was lots of dust, it was bumpy and stony. It was a nightmare but I started very carefully. We were behind the Chinese, but we didn’t come close, so I thought I was too slow.”
Al-Rajhi dropped to sixth overall after ongoing brake issues, Moraes and van Loon were 11th and 13th, Yacopini moved up to 18th, Baud was 25th and Lafarja was running well in 54th.
The third stage headed across the Al Nafud deserts towards the city of Ha’il and crews tackled 437km against the clock, although the weather had changed and a wet weather front greeted the Dakar caravan.
Deteriorating conditions played havoc with the safety plan and Dakar officials decided to stop the car and truck stage at PC3, after 377km, and determine the rankings from that point.
The stage win fell to Guerlain Chicherit but Al-Attiyah inherited the outright lead, despite stopping to change two flat tyres. He arrived in rain-sodden Ha’il with a 13min 19sec cushion over Al-Rajhi with Toyota holding the top two places in the overall classification, despite two flat tyres for Al-Rajhi. Moraes and Van Loon held ninth and 13th, Yacopini was 19th, Baud reached Ha’il in 23rd and Lafarja was 59th.
Ha’il – Riyadh
The fourth stage looped through the An Nafud dunes to the west of Ha’il and ran for 425km. On a stage where several rivals had problems, Al-Attiyah managed to edge a further 3min 47sec clear of Al-Rajhi in the rankings with the fourth quickest time. Al-Rajhi, Moraes and van Loon were fifth, eighth, 11th and 18th. There were five Toyotas inside the top seven and six in the top 10. Yacopini and Baud were 16th and 19th.
Al-Attiyah said: “A long stage, not easy and very tough. There was a lot of camel grass and off-piste. It wasn’t easy. We had one flat tyre and then we tried to push. We’ve been really very fast. We’ve made no mistakes at all and Mathieu navigated well. We are quite happy. The race is really changing every day, but we are trying to keep our strategy and our pace every day. The Audi is fast in the sand, but we are quite happy to finish day four and we will see what we can do the next day. The second week will be more interesting and we are quite happy”.
Van Loon’s co-driver Delaunay said: “It was very hard, the first 200km were fields of bumps interspersed with impassable sand dunes. We had to go around and then try to get back in the right axis. After the rain, the sand was very heavy and we had to manage our fuel consumption. Then there was a lot of navigation between canyons on tricky tracks that had been destroyed by the rain.”
Moraes was far more upbeat: “This was my best Dakar stage. It was really fast and really awesome. It was amazing to see how well the car handles when you are going fast.”
Stage five featured a second loop of 375km through the dunes and deserts surrounding the city of Ha’il. Al-Attiyah became embroiled in a titanic tussle with Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel for the stage win and the Qatari managed to fend off the rejuvenated Audis to claim the bragging rights. The win also enabled him to extend his overall advantage over Peterhansel to 22min 36sec after the Frenchman overtook Al-Rajhi to snatch second place.
“It was a very tough stage,” said Al-Attiyah.”It wasn’t easy, you know? We tried to really push like crazy. We took a lot of risks after the decision we made yesterday. The other teams have more power and more horsepower, but I’m happy to finish today without any problems.”
Moraes retained sixth, Yacopini climbed to 13th, Baud held 15th but Van Loon dropped back with two broken drive shafts and a series of rolls and finished the day in 17th overall.
The weather continued to play havoc with the schedule going forward and the programme for both stages six and seven was modified as a result. The longest stage of the event was reduced from 466km to 333km between Ha’il and Al-Duwadimi and competitors continued on to Riyadh instead of visiting the original inundated night halt.
Al-Rajhi suffered a broken wheel hub after 216km and plummeted down the rankings from third overall to 35th but drama had unfolded four kilometres behind the Saudi when early stage leader Peterhansel crashed heavily on a sand dune and Sainz also suffered a crash and car damage close by.
To rub salt in his rivals’ wounds, Al-Attiyah went on to win the stage and increased his lead over Lategan to a massive 1hr 06min 50sec. It was a superb day for the Japanese brand with Toyotas filling the top four places in the rankings and Moraes moving up to third. Baud, Van Loon and Yacopini were 11th, 12th and 13th overall after the day’s carnage.
Al-Attiyah said: “It was a very tough stage, not easy. We really pushed a lot but for the last 40km we broke the steering pump, so we didn’t have any steering. We had a lot of oil coming out.”
Stage seven completed a return journey to Riyadh but was shortened by 128km to just 345km. Al-Rajhi and Chicherit battled it out for the stage win, but Van Loon rolled his Overdrive Toyota out of the event after 99km. The Dutchman was knocked unconscious by the incident but had already come round when the medical team arrived to take him to hospital for further checks on a back injury. He had been running 11th overall at the start of the day.
With the stage win eventually falling to Al-Rajhi from Vaidotas Zala, Al-Attiyah stayed clear of trouble to maintain a lead of 1hr 01min 04sec over Lategan, with Moraes in third place.
Al-Attiyah began the eighth stage from 14th on the road and a third-placed finish guaranteed the Qatari a lead of 1hr 03min 36sec at the rest day. Delays for Baud promoted Yacopini into the top 10.
The second week will see the event entering the vast Empty Quarter in the remote south-east of the country for the first time.
The remaining six stages between Haradh, Shaybah, Al-Hofuf and the finish in Damman will be shorter, but competitors will tackle towering dunes, a sea of sand and see a dramatic climb in temperatures, a far cry from the chilly weather and heavy rain that made week one so difficult. There is also the added challenge of the two-day Empty Quarter Marathon without service assistance.
45th Dakar Rally – positions after stage 8 (unofficial):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota GR DKR Hilux 31hr 02min 58sec
2. Henk Lategan (ZAF)/Brett Cummings (ZAF) Toyota GR DKR Hilux 32hr 06min 34sec*
3. Lucas Moreas (BRA)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 32hr 23min 20sec*
4. Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Fabian Lurquin (BEL) Prodrive Hunter BRX 32hr 55min 04sec
6. Romain Dumas (FRA)/Max Defino (FRA) Toyota Hilux 33hr 30min 09sec*
7. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Viktor Chytka (CZE) Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country 33hr 39min 58sec
8. Brian Baragwanath (ZAF)/Leonard Cremer (ZAF) Century CR6 Buggy 33hr 45min 04sec*
9. Wei Han (CHN)/Ma Li (CHN) SMG HW 2021 Buggy 34hr 18min 01sec
10. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Oliveras (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 34hr 43min 20sec
13. Lionel Baud (FRA)/Remi Boulanger (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 35hr 00min 15sec*
19. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 36hr 26min 58sec
28. Isidre Esteve Pujol (ESP)/José-Maria Villalobos (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 37hr 05min 16sec*
55. Andrea Lafarja (PRY)/Ashley Garcia Chavez (PER) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 41hr 50min 10sec*
* denotes not registered for W2RC
For further information:
Jean-Marc Fortin (E-mail: email@example.com), Overdrive S.A., rue de L’Enterprise 1, 4530 Villers-le-Bouillet, Belgium, Tel: + 32 475 762 391. www.overdriveracing.be, Facebook: Overdrive Racing, Twitter: @OverdriveToyota