CHEER THE WHOLE TEAM: Toyota SA's Giniel de Villiers (right) and co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz are heroes for coming second in the 2015 Dakar but, wow!, it was a team effort. Image: Marc Bow
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - 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 his navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz drove on to the podium to accept their trophies for second place overall.
The pair finished 35min34 behind Qatari driver Nasser al-Attiyah (Mini) for whom it was his second overall win.
A smiling De Villiers, who won the race in 2009, said from the final podium in the Argentine capital: “"It was a great Dakar for us. We were right there in the thick of the fight. Our Toyota Imperial Hilux ran without missing a beat and we’ve shown everybody that we are more than capable of taking on the biggest names out there."
The race car was designed and assembled in South Africa.
After more than 9000km through Argentina, Chile and Bolivia - and back again - both Toyota Imperial Hilux bakkies completed the world's most gruelling motor race. De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz brought the Toyota Imperial Hilux (#303) home just under an hour ahead of the man in third place, Krzysztof Holowczyc (Mini) from Poland.
Team Principal Glyn Hall said after the race ended: "There were moments when we were within striking distance of the lead but we had a couple of small hiccups along the way. Even though they weren't serious they stopped us from ever really challenging for the top spot."
PROUD OF YAZEED, TOO
That said, Toyota was in an extremely strong position for most of the race with Saudi privateer Yazeed Al-Rahji running third in a pick-up identical – and from the same source - machine to those fielded by the Toyota Imperial South African Dakar Team. Only an electronic problem halted this talented driver, who was clearly headed for a podium finish in his first Dakar.
Hall said of the Saudi racer: "We are very proud of what Yazeed achieved on Dakar 2015. His experience in the World Rally championship was a great help so it was a pity to see him forced to stop three stages from the end."
For Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie (#327) in the second Toyota Imperial Hilux, Dakar 2015 had moments of extreme pleasure but also of disappointment. The pair showed exceptional pace throughout the race but a broken suspension part cost them significant time.
They also missed a way point during the event so were docked 40 minutes.
As a result they finished 16th overall but they were on course to win the final stage until the organisers halted Stage 13 - between Rosario and Buenos Aires - after just one way point due to flooding on the route. That meant American Robby Gordon (Gordini) who was leading at the time was awarded the stage win with Poulter/Howie 25sec off his pace.
BACK ON MONDAY - GO SEE THEM!
Poulter, after completing the liaison home to the Argentine capital, said: "We had a good race and learned a lot. This isn't a race you come and win on your debut; 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 fourth 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 are expected to arrive at O R Tambo airport on Monday January 19 at 1.40pm.