FLYING START: Leeroy Poulter and navigator Rob Howie in the second South African Toyota Hilux (#327) get seriously airborne on their way to 14th on Stage 1 of the 2015 Dakar Rally. Image: Marc Bow
VILLA CARLOS PAZ, Argentina - Both Toyota Imperial South African Dakar crews sighed in relief after Stage 1 of the 2015 Dakar Rally – especially as Hilux #303 crewed by Giniel de Villiers and German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz recorded the day’s fourth-fastest time.
Leeroy Poulter and navigator Rob Howie in the second Hilux (#327) were 14th overall after starting 27th and despite being held up for most of the stage in the dust of a slower car.
WATCH the Day 1 highlights.
Stage 1 was a relatively short stage of 170km that started only 144km north of the Argentine captial, Buenos Aires and had long straights with sharp turns and junctions on smooth surfaces, more akin to a traditional rally route than the vast open stages associated with the Dakar.
De Villiers said at the first bivouac of the race on Sunday night: "We had a fairly good, clean run today. The Hilux ran perfectly and we didn't take any risks so early."
He is only 1min12 behind early leader Nasser al-Attiyah (Mini). Argentine Orlando Terranova (Mini) is second and the USA's Robbie Gordon (Gordini Buggy) third but only eight seconds ahead of De Villiers.
Poulter and Howie started at a blistering pace (second-fastest to the first checkpoint) but then caught a slower competitor and had to sit in its dust for more than 140km. As a result the pair recorded only the 14th-fastest time - though clearly showing they are capable of significantly more.
TOUGH BREAK FOR ROMA
Poulter said at a road-side check after the stage: “It was very frustrating. We were so much faster than the guy ahead but there was nowhere to go past so we just had to sit there in the dust. We did, however, significantly improve on our start position."
They started 27th but posting a time only 4min40 slower than that of al-Attiyah took them to 14th for the day.
The biggest – perhaps read saddest – news of the day was the early demise of defending Dakar champion Nani Roma (Mini) who was spotted being towed to the bivouac after suffering oil pressure problems from very early in the stage. It remains to be seen if he will make the start for Stage 2 – but even if he does he will be so far behind that winning will be a miracle.
Toyota SA team principal Glyn Hall said at the first bivouac of the race: "I’m relatively pleased with our performance on Day 1. Both Toyota Imperial Hilux race vehicles ran well and it's good to have the first stage behind us.
“Leeroy demonstrated maturity 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 International Automobile Federation’s engine regulations (on mm wider 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."
DAY 2 ROUTE
Next up will be today’s (Jan 5) Stage 2, the longest special stage of the event: 518km of varied terrain after a 26km liaison. It will start just outside Villa Carlos Paz and features hard-packed dirt and rock tracks at the start, with long dusty sections in the middle.
The monster stage will end with a long sandy stretch to an 81km liaison to the second bivouac at San Juan.
Stay with Wheels24 for daily coverage of the 2015 Dakar Rally.