IMPERIAL TOYOTA HILUX PICKUPS WELL PLACED AFTER
FIRST WEEK OF DAKAR RALLY
With Friday’s stage six between Fiambala in Argentina and Copiapo in Chile cancelled because of bad weather conditions that made it unsafe for competitors to negotiate the high-altitude crossing of the Andes Mountains, the first week of the Dakar Rally is just one stage away from ending.
Instead, the remaining competitors (125 cars, 130 motorcycles, 21 quads and 71 trucks) travelled in convoy through the Paso San Francisco pass at 4 700 metres above sea level directly to Copiapo.
The rally will resume on Saturday with a 419-kilometre loop stage around Copiapo before the competitors take a much needed rest day in Copiapo, after more than 1 400 kilometres of special stage racing since the rally began in the Argentine coastal resort city of Mar del Plata on January 1.
After the first five stages, all in Argentina, the two Imperial Toyota Hilux pickups of South Africans Giniel de Villiers and Duncan Vos have survived what has been described as the most torrid start to the world’s longest and most difficult motor race since its inception in 1979.
De Villiers, competing in his ninth Dakar, is currently lying ninth overall with German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz after running as high as second on Wednesday. They are 21 min 01 sec behind the leaders, Stephane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret of France in a four-wheel drive diesel Mini. Dakar rookies Vos and South African co-driver Rob Howie are 12th overall, 1 hr 19 min 49 sec behind Peterhansel.
Winner of the 2009 Dakar and a former national off road champion, De Villiers has not only reinforced his reputation as one of the world’s top rally raid drivers, running at the sharp end of the field throughout, but has demonstrated that his South African-built four-wheel drive Toyota has what it takes to tackle the Dakar and run with the best off road racers in the world.
Consistent and mostly trouble-free performances in the first four stages saw the 39-year-old from Stellenbosch improve from fourth overall on day one to third on day three and then second on day four. It was only on Thursday’s stage five, when he lost around 15 minutes after getting stuck in sand dunes, that he struck any real trouble. He remains one of the favourites to finish on the podium in Lima in Peru on January 15.
Vos and Howie have impressed in their first Dakar and have steadily climbed the rankings, from 20th on day one to 12th on Thursday, as they find their feet and their confidence grows.
Another all-South African pairing making an impression on debut is the Century Racing team of Mark Corbett and Francois Jordaan in a Toyota-powered two-wheel drive CR4 buggy. In the first four days they climbed from 60th at the start to 19th on Wednesday and were heading for around 13th place overall when they experienced clutch problems and lost two hours. They are now in a very creditable 22nd position.
While Sunday is officially a ‘rest day’, it will anything but for the service crews. This is their chance to rebuild the cars, replacing just about everything other than the engine if necessary.
Toyota Motorsport Acknowledges Its Dakar Sponsors and Specialist Official Supplier and Technical Partners
IMPERIAL Toyota, Duxbury Netgear, Innovation Group, SAA, TFM, 4×4 Mega World, Blue Sky Satellite Communications, Castrol, NGK, SKF, Ferodo, Spanjaard, Edgecam, Mastercraft, Donaldson, Oakley, Sparco, Shatterprufe and Supreme Spring.