BUENOS AIRES – There was pure elation in Buenos Aires after the finish of Stage 13 – final stage of the 2015 Dakar – when South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz drove onto the podium to accept their trophies for second place overall. The pair finished 35:34 behind Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah (MINI), who claimed his second overall victory on the event.
“It was a great Dakar for us,” said a smiling De Villiers from the final podium in the Argentine capital. “We were right there, in the thick of the fight. Our Toyota Imperial Hilux ran without missing a beat, and we have shown everybody that we are more than capable of taking on the biggest names out there.”
After more than 9,000 km in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, both Toyota Imperial Hilux bakkies completed the world’s most grueling motor race. De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz brought the Toyota Imperial Hilux (#303) home just under one hour ahead of the man in third place, Krzysztof Holowczyc (MINI) from Poland.
“There were moments when we were within striking distance of the lead,” said Team Principal Glyn Hall after the race ended. “But we had a couple of small hiccups along the way, and even though they weren’t serious, they stopped us from ever really challenging for the top spot.”
With that said, Toyota was in an extremely strong position for most of the race, with Saudi privateer Yazeed Alrahji running in third place, in an identical machine to those fielded by the Toyota Imperial South African Dakar Team. Only an electronic problem halted the talented driver, who was clearly headed for a podium finish in his first ever Dakar.
“We are very proud of what Yazeed achieved on Dakar 2015,” said Hall about the Saudi racer. “His experience in the World Rally Championship was a great help, and it was a pity to see him forced to stop just three stages from the end of the race.”
For Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie (#327) in the second Toyota Imperial Hilux, Dakar 2015 had moments of extreme pleasure as well as moments of disappointment. The pair showed exceptional pace throughout the race, but a broken suspension part cost them significant time early on. They also missed one waypoint during the event, and were docked 40 minutes for the transgression.
As a result they finished in sixteenth position overall, but they were on course to win the final stage of the event. Sadly the organisers halted Stage 13 – between Rosario and Buenos Aires – after just one waypoint, due to flooding on the route. This meant that American Robby Gordon, who was leading at the time of the cancellation, was awarded the stage win, with Poulter/Howie posting a time just 25 seconds off his pace.
“We had a good race, and learnt a lot this year,” explained Poulter after completing the liaison to the Argentine capital. “This isn’t a race you come and win on your debut, and not on your second year either. It takes time to understand the workings of the Dakar, but I really feel that we’ve grown a lot this year.”
For the Toyota Imperial South African Dakar Team this is the third podium finish in four years – third in 2012, second in 2013 and now second again in 2015. In 2014 De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz missed out on the podium, but still brought the Toyota Imperial Hilux home in fourth place overall.
“For us Dakar 2015 was a fantastic experience,” concluded Hall. “And another podium finish just serves to underscore how competitive we have been since entering this amazing race. All credit goes to the team that has worked tirelessly to develop, build and test the magnificent machines we have been privileged to race – without them, there would simply not have been a Toyota Imperial SA Dakar Team.”
With the race now complete, the team will prepare all their tools, spare parts and other equipment for shipping back to South Africa. The race crew, technicians and other staff all arrive at O.R. Tambo airport on Monday 19 January, at 13:40 in the afternoon.