DE VILLIERS AND VON ZITZEWITZ CLOSE IN ON SECOND SUCCESSIVE DAKAR PODIUM
The Toyota Imperial South Africa Team’s Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz (Imperial Toyota Hilux #301) are just one stage away from a second successive podium finish in the Dakar Rally in South America.
After completing Friday’s penultimate special stage 13 between Copiapo and La Serena in Chile in fourth place, eight minutes behind the stage-winning Hummer of Americans Robbie Gordon and Kellon Walch, the 2009 Dakar champions have cemented their second place overall, closing the gap to leaders and defending champions Stephane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret of France (Mini) to 44 minutes and extending their lead over third-placed Leonid Novitskiy and Konstantin Zhiltsov of Russia in another Mini to nearly 45 minutes.
Frenchmen Guerlain Chicherit and Jean-Pierre Garcin (SMG Buggy) were second on Friday’s stage, just 22 seconds behind the Americans and four minutes ahead of the Argentine duo of Lucio Alvarez and Roland Graue in another South African-built Toyota Hilux. Peterhansel and Cottret were content to take it easy given their comfortable overall lead, finishing ninth on the stage and giving away almost six minutes to De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz.
With only the final 128-kilometre special stage between La Serena and the end of the rally in Santiago on Saturday to go, the South African/German duo know that only a serious misfortune can rob them of their third runner-up finish in seven years. By the same token, it would take such a misfortune to deprive the two Frenchmen of their fifth Dakar victory in nine years. Between them they are the two most successful Dakar teams in the past decade.
De Villiers, competing in his 10th Dakar, is remaining calm and focused, attributes that make him, in Peterhansel’s own words, “the driver I rate most likely to beat me”.
The 40-year-old from Stellenbosch and the 44-year-old from Karlshof, who was the rookie of the year in the motorcycle section in the 1997 Dakar in Africa, tackled stage 13 in a controlled manner and took no risks in the extended dunes of Copiapo that would jeopardise their comfortable overall position.
“This was not a stage to attack on,” De Villiers said afterwards. “Once again the stage proved tough, as expected. In the dunes we were twice forced to take double runs in order to cross them, otherwise everything ran to plan. Our Toyota Hilux continues to be reliable and trouble-free and has proved itself on all sorts of terrain. We have one day left ahead of us, and we must aim to retain second place at the finish.”
Von Zitzewitz: “Our preparation for the challenges of navigating today’s stage was certainly worth gold. We made it through the day without a misitake. When we were forced to take double runs at the dunes, Giniel was calm as we knew we had alternatives planned. On Saturday on the way to Santiago it will again be twisty and really dusty, but the finish is within sight and we will do everything to reach it.”
Glyn Hall: “No problems today. Giniel and Dirk drove at a safe pace. The dune part was soft in places, but they still managed to cross at maximum tyre pressure. No problems with the car. Everything has been checked by the team, ready for the final stage. Nothing has been taken for granted – it’s not over until we reach Santiago. We’ve been second overall for five days now and four of our Hilux 4x4s fill the first four positions in the T1 petrol 4×4 class.”
The other four South African-built Toyota Hilux 4x4s are all still in the top 20 in the overall general classification, with Olholm/Aston 11th, Alvarez/Graue 12th, Malysz/Marton 15th and Coffaro/Meneses 16th.
The final stage on Saturday is anything but a stroll in the park. A 502-liaison section precedes the relatively short 128-kilometre special stage over fast tracks, before the triumphant finishers will be welcomed by a massive crowd of excited fans in Santiago, who will be treated to a bit of an exhibition finale over the last few kilometres. A highly emotional podium ceremony will follow in front of the Chilean capital city’s Palacio de la Monda. It will be the end of a remarkable 15-day journey that began in Lima, Peru, on January 5.
Toyota Motorsport Acknowledges Its Dakar Sponsors, Specialist Official Suppliers and Technical Partners
Toyota, Imperial Toyota, Duxbury Netgear, SAA, SAA Cargo, Innovation Group, Toyota Financial Services, Blue Sky, Bosch, Castrol, DeWalt, Donaldson, Edgecam, 4×4 Mega World, Hallspeed, Mastercraft, Michelin, Mistral, NGK, Oakley, SKF, Spanjaard and TFM.