Special stage nine of the 2014 Dakar Rally between Calama and the coastal city of Iquique in Chile on Tuesday turned out to be a lot more difficult than South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz (Imperial Toyota Hilux) expected.
Two punctures didn’t help and neither did the dust and roughed up terrain from the cars ahead of them after they started in seventh place on the road. At the finish of the 422-kilometre racing section, which ended with a dramatic three-kilometre descent down giant sand dunes to the overnight bivouac with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop, they had to settle for fifth on the day. They were 22m 57s behind stage winners and defending champions Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret of France (Mini) and dropped two places to joint fourth position.
Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz were second (2m 17s), Nani Roma of Spain and Michel Perin of France in a Mini were third (+11m 36s) and fourth were Argentine Orlando Terranova and Portuguese co-driver Paulo Fiuza in another Mini (+14m 14s).
The 2009 champions lost 11m 21s to overall race leaders Roma and Perin with four stages remaining and are now 59m 46s in arrears. Also ahead of them are Peterhansel/Cottret, (+12m 10s), Terranova and Fiuza (Mini) +54m 33s and former champions Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz (Mini) +59m 46s.
“It was an unexpectedly tough stage,” said De Villiers. “The dune section was difficult and navigation was tricky with several waypoints that had to be found. We’ve lost a lot of time to the leaders, but we carry on and push as hard as we can. There are some long stages ahead and anything can happen, so we remain positive.”
Toyota Imperial team-mate Leeroy Pouter, making his debut appearance in the world’s longest and toughest motor race, and co-driver Rob Howie experienced the cruel side of the Dakar. After starting 29th on the road and 28th overall following a good performance on stage eight, they dropped five places in the general classification after a roll and a lengthy delay to receive attention from their assistance truck saw them complete the stage in 53rd place, 4h 09m 48s in arrears.
Poulter: “We started this morning behind five trucks and there was a lot of fesh-fesh (a fine dust specific to area) in the beginning. Although there was a road to follow there were frequent off road cutaways that you had to follow. We managed to pass a few of the trucks and were in the dust of another car when I thought there was a gap to try and make a pass. But there was a 90 degree corner and a cutaway. We went straight through the cutaway and ended up in a slow roll.
“A passing truck pulled us back on our wheels and we carried on for another 20 kilometres before we had to stop with a broken upper wishbone, which was probably as a result of the roll. We stripped the car in readiness for repairs and waited about two hours for our T4 support truck to reach us. After another 30 minutes we were on our way again.
“We made slow progress as we had no windscreen and had to wear goggles. The technicians will fix the car tonight. It’s been a difficult and long day, but we must carry on tomorrow and get some more experience.”
Glyn Hall, team manager: “What we’re seeing on this year’s Dakar, which is maybe even tougher than the organisers said it would be, is the result of what I regard to be the inequality of the rules concerning the control of the performance of the different cars’ engines.
“This is done by means of engine air restrictors. The seven-litre V8 two-wheel drive buggies, like the SMG of Carlos Sainz, have a 39 mm restrictor, the twin-turbocharged three-litre diesel Minis have a 38 mm restrictor and the five-litre Toyota Hilux has a 36 mm restrictor. The smaller restrictor strangles the performance of the engine by a significant amount. It is not an equal fight.
“The regulations were supposed to have been reviewed after last year’s Dakar, but this will only be done after this year’s event.
“We’ve had a few setbacks so far, but not as a result of the performance of the Hilux. It’s strong – as was demonstrated today when Leeroy rolled his and was able to carry on, and also by the fact that despite the performance disadvantage Giniel is the only non-Mini driver in the top five in the overall classification after nine days of racing . The top five are covered by just under an hour, while the sixth car, the Holowczyc Mini, is more than three hours in arrears.
“It’s worth noting that there are three Toyota Hilux 4x4s currently in the top 10 and a fourth one in 14th position overall, all with a South African pedigree.”
“Make no mistake, we came here to win and at least finish on the podium. We still believe a podium place is possible and we’ll be pushing for this right to the finish.”
South African privateers Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr, competing in their first Dakar in the ex-Toyota Motorsport Hilux in which De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz finished second in last year’s Dakar, are an impressive 25th overall. They were 17th overall on Monday after a stage best of 15th, but lost time on Tuesday with power steering problems.
Stage 10, down the west coast of Chile from Iquique to Antofagasta, is split into two sections with very different features. The 631-kilometre racing section will begin with the descent towards the shores of the Pacific after a short 53-kilometre liaison stage. There will be sand for the first 200 kilometres and fesh-fesh in the second part of the stage. From there to the finish the route twists and winds along the region’s mine tracks until the competitors are welcomed by the majestic arch of La Portuda, a stone’s throw from the overnight bivouac.
The stage will get underway at 08:03 (13:03 SA time) and the first car is due at the bivouac in Antofagasta at 16:38 (21:38).
Toyota Motorsport South Africa Acknowledges Its Dakar Sponsors, Specialist Official Suppliers and Technical Partners
Toyota, Imperial Toyota Group, Duxbury Netgear, Innovation Group, Toyota Financial Services, SAA Cargo, Blue Sky, Bosch, Castrol, DeWalt, Donaldson, Edgecam, 4×4 Mega World, Hallspeed, Mastercraft, NGK, Oakley, SKF, Spanjaard, Sparco and TFM.