DAKAR HYPED: South Africans Leroy Poulter and Rob Howie in their SA-built super-Hilux at the ceremonial start of the 2015 Dakar Rally on Jan 4 2015. Image: Supplied
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - With the start of Dakar 2015 only hours away the Toyota Imperial South African Dakar team has completed all its pre-race checks by the end of Saturday (Jan 3 2015) and was looking forward to the ceremonial podium start later in the day.
Team principal Glyn Hall said on Saturday: “We’re pleased that every member of the team has successfully completed all the pre-race checks but more importantly both Hilux race vehicles have also passed through scrutineering without a hitch...”
The administrative checks and vehicle scrutineering on the Dakar, it was explained, are notoriously stringent but in what is described as “the world's toughest motorsport event” safety comes and every person taking part in the event must comply.
INTENSE CHECKS ON CREWS
That includes customs, medical and environmental declarations, equipment checks, briefings on the route and much more.
Clearing the checks can take a top team several days: not only the two race vehicles but also every support vehicle and staff member has to be checked. For the race crews - Giniel de Villiers / Dirk von Zitzewitz in Hilux #303 and Leeroy Poulter / Rob Howie in #327 - the checks are even more intense and bring home the seriousness of this incredible event.
Checks completed, on to the ceremonial start which involves every crew driving their motorcycle, quad bike, truck or production race vehicle over a ramp and around a short parade route - with nearly a million Argentine fans looking on. It’s one of the spectacles of the world's toughest motor race and it took several hours for the 414 competitors to complete the ceremony.
MINIS WILL BE TOUGHEST COMPETITION
Dakar 2015 will start on Sunday January 4 with a short liaison from the start in Buenos Aires to the start of the first - a 170km run - stage. That will be followed by a long liaison of 519km to the race's first bivouac at the Argentine town of Villa Carlos Paz.
Stage 1 consists of fast tracks with sharp bends, more akin to a traditional rally stage than the spectacular open vistas of the Dakar.
Giniel de Villiers said before the start of the first day: "Our biggest competition is sure to come from the Minis. Nasser al-Attiyah, Nani Roma and Orlando Terranova are all fast and we've seen how strong those cars are at high altitude. That said, this is a new year and we have a new, more powerful, and lighter Hilux - so let's wait and see what happens on the first stage."
For Leeroy Poulter Dakar 2015 is a chance to improve on his 33rd at the end of the 2014 event. The Johannesburg-based driver has completed a full season in the South African Cross-Country championship and is confident that the extra hours in the race vehicle, together with navigator Rob Howie, will make a huge difference.
"Not only that," he added, "but we've also done a Dakar together now so my entire mental state and outlook on the race is better now than in 2014. I’ve a much clearer picture of what to do and can't wait to get out there."
'IT'S NOT EASY!'
The team has fielded two brand-new Hilux racing bakkies. They have a redesigned exterior, slightly larger air-restrictor (37mm vs 36mm in 2014), new suspension, lower overall weight and many other significant changes. The vehicle was built in response to changes in the International Automobile Federation’s Dakar regulations and it’s hoped they will level playing field between the V8 petrol engines of the Toyota Imperial Hilux and the turbocharged diesel engines of the Mini team.
Hall again: "The Dakar is not an easy event to win. Many people are trying but we are confident that our new race vehicle is better than ever – it may be our best shot yet."
Stay with Wheels24 for daily coverage of the 2015 Dakar Rally.