IQUIQUE, Chile - A fantastic drive on the second leg of the so-called “marathon stage” into – and back out of – Bolivia (stages without service assistance) saw South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz post the fourth-fastest time.
That’s only 2min49 behind the stage winner but, more importantly, only 13 seconds slower than overall rally leader Nasser al-Attiyah and his Mini. That places the SA Hilux in a solid second place overall after eight stages, 8min27 down.
As team boss Glyn Hall said: "“If ever we've been in with a shot, this is it."
CHOPPER APPEAL DISALLOWED
De Villiers, after descending the monster dune behind the bivouac at Iquique, said: "Today's stage was quite a test. We started more than 4500m high on the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) and had a 130km section where we drove absolutely flat out but the Toyota Imperial Hilux showed its mettle against the Minis today and we are very happy with our overall stage time."
De Villiers and Zitzewitz led for most of the 510km stage but an incident with an official TV helicopter saw them collide with a rock in the choking fesh-fesh dust kicked up by the chopper’s blades.
The resulting puncture cost them three minutes, as well as the stage win, and valuable gains made over al-Attiyah before the incident.
"We lodged a protest with the stewards immediately after the stage," explained team principal Glyn Hall from the bivouac. "They deliberated for hours but in the end decided to reject our appeal to have the time lost due to their chopper returned.
“It is very disappointing to lose time in a situation that was clearly not of our doing - but that's the way it is and at least we are still in the fight for the win."
'EVERY REASON TO BE PROUD'
While De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz (#303) certainly have reason to be disappointed, Saudi driver Yazeed al-Rajhi and German navigator Timo Gottschalk, taking part in their first Dakar, drove exceptionally well to record a maiden stage victory for their new-generation Toyota Hilux, built at the Toyota Motorsport SA workshop near the famous Kyalami circuit in Johannesburg.
The pair have shown remarkable pace throughout the event but Sunday’s victory confirmed their ability to mix it with the biggest names of the Dakar. They are now third overall, just under 10 minutes behind De Villiers.
Glyn Hall added: "We have every reason to be proud of what we've achieved so far. We have Giniel and Dirk fighting for the lead of the Dakar and Yazeed and Timo achieving the first win in the new generation Toyota Hilux.
“And don't forget that Leeroy (Poulter) and Rob (Howie) are still going strong, despite losing a lot of time on Stage 6."
It’s been a race of emotional highs and lows for these two. Extremely fast at times, time lost on Stage 6 after they missed a way point and put themselves out of the running for overall victory.
They are currently 17th overall.
Poulter commented after Stage 8: "We will keep pushing hard. If there's one thing we've learned from our first Dakar in 2014 it’s that you have to be patient. All we can do now is to keep going as hard as we can, without damaging the car.
"If we continue doing that to the end I'm sure we'll end up in a good position."
TAKING TIME OFF - THE CREWS, THAT IS...
Today (Monday Jan 12) is the rest day for the car crews during which the drivers and navigators take a break from the event while the service crews strip and examine the race vehicles in preparation for the push to the end of Dakar 2015 at Buenos Aires on Saturday January 17.
Hall emphasised: "We need to make absolutely certain that every critical component on each race vehicle is in pristine condition. We take the cars apart completely and reassemble them after thorough checks.
“There is always a risk of fixing something that isn't broken but it would be remiss of us not to do the checks."
ONE MORE IN CHILE...
There will be one more stage in Chile - Iquique to Calama - before the Dakar crosses the Andes back into Argentina for the final four stages. These stages are run at lower altitudes, where the non-turbo V8 engine used by the Toyota Imperial Hiluxes is more at home.
Hall added: "That could be a key aspect of the race in the final stages but we have to take it one day at a time. The Dakar still isn't an easy race to win but this is the best position we've been in at this point.
“If ever we've been in with a shot, this is it."
Stay with Wheels24 for daily coverage of the 2015 Dakar Rally.
2015 Dakar Stage 8 results (cars) -
Eighth stage, 808km (784km timed)
from Uyuni in Bolivia to Iquique in Chile
1 Yazeed al-Rajhi/Timo Gottschalk
(KSA/GER/Toyota) 3hr26min 49
2 Orlando Terranova/Bernardo Graue
(ARG/ARG/Mini) +1min 12
3 Nasser al-Attiyah/Matthieu Baumel
4 Giniel De Villiers/Dirk Von Zitzewitz
5 Krzysztof Holowczyc/Xavier
Panseri (POL/FRA/Mini) +3min12
6 Nani Roma/Michel Prin
7 Stephane Peterhansel/Jean Paul Cottret
8 Vladimir Vasilyev/Konstantin
Zhiltsov (RUS/RUS/Mini) +6min00
9 Boris Garafulic/Filipe Palmeiro
10 Carlos Sousa/Paulo Fiuza
1 Nasser al-Attiyah/Matthieu Baumel
(QAT/FRA/Mini) 26hr41min15. (penalty 2min00)
2 Giniel De Villiers/Dirk Von
Zitzewitz (RSA/GER/Toyota) at +8min27
3 Yazeed al-Rajhi/Timo Gttschalk
4 Krzysztof Holowczyc/Xavier
Panseri (POL/FRA/Mini) +54min38
5 Bernhard Ten Brinke/Tom Colsoul
(NED/BEL/Toyota) +1 hr22min52
6 Erik Van Loon/Wouter Rosegaar
7 Christian Lavieille/Pascal Maimon
8 Stephane Peterhansel/Jean Paul
Cottret (FRA/FRA/Peugeot) +1hr51min46
9 Carlos Sousa/Paulo Fiuza (POR/POR/Mitsubishi)
10 Ronan Chabot/Gilles Pillot