SOLID STAGE FOR DE VILLIERS/VON ZITZEWITZ, AS TEAM ORDERS HOLD BACK POULTER/HOWIE
TERMAS DE RIO HONDO – Stage 11 of the 2015 Dakar was marked by yet another solid performance by the Toyota Imperial SA Dakar Team’s ‘mister consistency’, Giniel de Villiers. Partnered by long-standing German navigator the Dakar veteran from Paarl posted the 3rd-fastest time on the stage, finishing just 39 seconds behind the stage winner and overall rally leader, Nasser Al-Attiyah. They remain in second place, 29:01 back from the lead.
“It was a good stage for us, but it was just too short to make up any time on Nasser,” said De Villiers from the riverside town of Termas de Rio Hondo. “And with only two stages to go, we just have to make sure we don’t take any risks. At this point we can’t catch Nasser on pure pace – all we can do is consolidate and with a bit of luck, the win might still come our way.”
For Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie, it was a frustrating day behind the wheel of their Toyota Imperial Hilux. The pair finished ahead of De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz on Stage 10, which meant that they started Stage 11 ahead of their teammates on the road.
“This morning Glyn Hall, (Team Principal) asked us to support Giniel and Dirk,” said Poulter from the bivouac at Termas de Rio Hondo in Argentina. “We pulled away ahead of them on the stage, but then stopped to let them by. It cost us more than three minutes, and even though we had a clean stage after that, we still posted only the 16th-fastest time today.”
But the biggest disappointment of the day saw the demise of Saudi privateer Yazeed Alrahji and German navigator Timo Gottschalk. The pair was taking part in their first Dakar, and had not only posted competitive stage times throughout the event, but even won Stage 8 outright. Their South-African built Toyota Hilux race vehicle was identical to the two Toyota Imperial Hilux race machines used by De Villiers and Poulter.
“Yazeed and Timo were in third place overall, and were looking good to attain a podium finish on their first Dakar,” explained Hall after the stage. “But an electronic problem related to the speed limiter system, which is used to stop the cars from exceeding the limits imposed by the race organisers, caused irreparable damage to the engine of their race car. We tried very hard to fix it at a road-side service this morning, but we just couldn’t get it done and Yazeed had to withdraw.”
It is a heartbreaking end to a stunning campaign by the Saudi. Together with his navigator, the pair arrived in Argentina at the start of the year, and proceeded to amaze everyone with their pace and professional approach – and that despite not having driven the Toyota Hilux race vehicle at all before the Dakar. They were in third place overall when they retired, just one place behind De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz.
For the two Toyota Imperial Hilux crews, the race is now heading for its final two stages. Next up is Stage 12, a 298 km-long test that sees the crews move from the town of Termas Rio Hondo to Rosario – scene of the start of Dakar 2014. Before the start of the stage, however, the race crews will complete a liaison of 248 km, and after the stage they will complete another liaison of 478 km. It is a mammoth trek towards the end, and may offer the final opportunity for a change at the top of the leaderboard.