VILLA CARLOS PAZ – Both Toyota Imperial South African Dakar Team crews sighed in relief, as they successfully completed Stage 1 of the 2015 Dakar Rally. Not only that, but car #303 – driven by Giniel de Villiers and German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz – recorded the fourth-fastest time of the day. Leeroy Poulter and navigator Rob Howie, in the second Toyota Imperial Hilux (#327) finished 14th overall, after starting in the 27th position.
Stage 1 of the 2015 Dakar Rally saw competitors complete a relatively short stage of 170 km, which started just 144 km north of the Argentine captial, Buenos Aires. The short stage featured long straights with sharp turns and junctions on smooth surfaces, more akin to traditional rally routes than the vast open stages associated with the Dakar.
“We had a fairly good, clean run today,” said Giniel de Villiers after arriving at the first bivouac of the 2015 race. “The Hilux ran absolutely perfectly, and we didn’t take any risks so early on.”
De Villiers/Von Zitzetwiz is only 01:12 behind early leader Nasser Al-Attiyah (MINI). Arengentine Orlando Terranova (MINI) is in second place, with the USA’s Robbie Gordon (Gordini Buggy) slotting into third, just eight seconds ahead of De Villiers.
Poulter and Howie, meanwhile, started at a blistering pace (2nd at the first checkpoint). However, they quickly caught up with one of the slower competitors ahead of them and got stuck in their dust for more than 140 km. As a result the pair recorded only the 14th-fastest time, though they have clearly shown that they are capable of significantly more.
“It was very frustrating today,” said Poulter at a road-side check after the stage. “We were so much faster than the guy ahead of us, but there was nowhere to go past him. So we just had to sit there in the dust. With that said, we did improve significantly on our starting position.”
The pair pulled away in 27th position at the start of the stage, but by posting a time just 4:40 slower than that of Al-Attiyah they moved up to 14th at the end of the day. The biggest news of the day was the early demise of defending champion Nani Roma (MINI), who was spotted being towed to the bivouac after suffering oil pressure problems on the stage. It remains to be seen if he will make the start for Stage 2.
“I am relativly pleased with our performance on Day 1,” said Team Principal Glyn Hall from the first bivouac of the race. “Both Toyota Imperial Hilux race vehicles ran well today, and it’s good to have the first stage behind us. Leeroy demonstrated maturity today by being patient behind the slow buggy, which is encouraging. I did expect us to be faster at this, the lowest altitude stage of the rally. Although we have had some relief in the FIA’s engine regulations (1mm larger restrictor), it’s clearly not enough: From here the altitude goes up and our power will decrease in relation to that of the turbo-charged cars, which is still a concern for us.”
Next up is the longest special stage of Dakar 2015, which sees crews tackle 518 km of varied terrain after a short liaison of 26 km. Stage 2 starts just outside the town of Villa Carlos Paz, and features hard packed dirt and rock tracks at the start, with long dusty sections in the middle. The monster stage ends with a long sandy stretch, leaving the crews with just an 81 km liaison to the next bivouac at San Juan.) and liaison (open road) sections where they do not race against the clock, but still have to depart at certain predetermined times and clock in before a given deadline to avoid time penalties.