It was the longest, highest and toughest Dakar Rally since the iconic event moved from politically troubled North Africa to South America in 2009.
Just 204 vehicles (78 out of 184 motorcycles, 15 of 42 quads, 61 of 154 cars and 50 of 70 trucks) out of the 450 that started the race in Rosario in Argentina on January 5 made it to the finish.
And among the survivors after a 9 500-kilometre haul through Argentina and Chile that took two weeks and included 5 000 kilometres of racing section split over 13 stages, plus the highest crossing of the Andes Mountains through the Paso de Jama Pass at over 4 900 metres above sea level, were both of the proudly South African Toyota Imperial Team’s Hilux 4×4 pickups.
Once again South Africa’s top-selling bakkie demonstrated its toughness and reliability in the supreme challenge in world cross country racing. Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz finished fourth overall and first in the T1.1 class for petrol-powered 4×4 improved cross country vehicles. De Villiers was the only driver to take the fight to an armada of Minis all the way to the finish at the Chilean port city of Valparaiso, winning the last stage on his way to his seventh top five finish in 10 Dakars.
Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie were 33rd overall and 13th in class. Four other Hilux 4x4s with a strong South African pedigree finished in the top 25: the Belgian Overdrive team, who ran vehicles built by Toyota Motorsport South Africa or assembled from kits supplied by Toyota Motorsport’s Glyn Hall and his crack team in Kyalami, placed seventh and 13th (second and third in class) with Poland’s Marek Dabrowski/Jacek Czachor and Adam Malysz/Rafal Marton (POL) and 17th (fifth in class) with Aidyn Rakhimbayev/Vladimir Demyanenko of Kazakhstan.
South African privateers Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr, competing in their first Dakar Rally in the ex-Toyota Motorsport Hilux in which De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz finished second in last year’s Dakar, were 25th overall and eighth in class.
Toyota also took the honours in the T2 class for production vehicles. The Land Cruisers of Japanese/French duo Jun Mitsuhashi and Alain Guehennic and team-mates Nicolas Gibon of France and Akira Miura of Japan finished 20th and 21st overall and were first and second in class. It was Mitsuhashi’s third class win.
Japan’s Teruhito Sugawara, competing in his 33rd Dakar at the age of 72 (he was the oldest competitor), and Hiroyuki Sugiura (Hino) and Sugawara’s son Yoshimasa and Katsumi Hamura (Hino) were 12th and 31st overall respectively in the truck category and in class T4.2.
Toyota Motorsport South Africa technician Albert Geel was a crew member in the T4 rapid assistance truck that won its class and provided technical backup along the route to the two Toyota Imperial Hilux 4x4s.
Calvyn Hamman, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, speaking at a media conference at Oliver Tambo International Airport on Monday, welcomed the 21-strong team back home and paid tribute to their success. “We are extremely proud of you and your achievements in one of the toughest Dakars ever.”
Team manager Glyn Hall paid special tribute to his engineers and technicians for their role under the most difficult of service conditions. “You have true South African spirit and strength, like a Springbok rugby team.”
He praised the performance of the Toyota Hilux, built and developed by Kyalami-based Hallspeed on behalf of Toyota South Africa, with its production-based 5.0-litre all-alloy 32-valve quad camshaft V8 engine. “The Hilux was so much quicker than last year and we had high hopes. We compete to win, so it was difficult not being able to match the Minis. It was very evident that that we were pushing our cars the hardest.
“There is a disparity in the performance of the cars that is a real issue and it is going to be addressed. The current rules, that result in the Hilux having the smallest restrictor of the top contenders, were in place for the past two years and now they are to be reviewed. We just have to ensure we get the balance of power right.
Giniel de Villiers: “We had high expectations. The new Hilux was the best we’ve ever had, but the race conditions, with much of the route run at high altitude, did not suit our petrol-powered engine with the small air restrictor imposed by the organisers. The diesel-powered Minis with their bigger restrictors enjoyed a considerable advantage at altitude and also in the sand dunes. We were able to compete with them on an equal footing in the rally-type conditions. Winning our first stage in the Hilux was a special moment.”
Leeroy Poulter, competing in his first Dakar, impressed with his pace – he led the rally for most of the opening stage and scored his first podium finish on stage three – and proved to be a driver to watch in the future. “We had such a good start I wondered why everyone had told me it was such a big race. Then we came to earth with a bump when we broke our rear dampers on stage four. We had to wait four hours for the assistance truck and it was a difficult race from then on. We’ve learnt a great deal this time and I’m looking forward to coming back again and putting this experience to good use.”
Dakar Rally 2014 provisional overall classification:
- Nani Roma/Michel Périn (ESP/FRA), Mini, 50:44:58
- Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA), Mini, +5:38
- Nasser Al-Attiyah and Lucas Cruz (QAT/ESP), Mini, +56:52
- Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZAF/DEU), Toyota Hilux, +01:10.07
- Orlando Terranova/Paulo Fiuza (ARG/PRT), Mini, +01:27:44
- Krzysztof Holowczyc/Konstantin Zhiltsov (POL), Mini, +03:55:42
- Marek Dabrowski/Jacek Czachor (POL), Toyota Hilux, +05:34:25
- Christian Lavieille/Jean-Pierre Garcin (FRA), GWM Haval, +05:35:50
- Martin Kaczmarski/Filipe Palmeiro (POL), Mini, +06:58:12
- Vladimir Vasilyev/Vitaliy Yevtyekhov (RUS), Mini, +06:59:34
Other Toyota Hilux Results Dakar 2014
13 Adam Malysz/Rafal Marton (POL), Toyota Hilux
17 Aidyn Rakhimbayev/Vladimir Demyanenko (KAZ), Toyota Hilux
25 Thomas Rundle/Juan Mohr (ZAF), Toyota Hilux
33 Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie (ZAF), Toyota Hilux
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.