WHAT A RACE: Despite heartache and huge disappointments, the Toyota SA ultimately delivered three teams within the top 10! Image: QuickPic
Buenos Aires, Argentina - Dakar 2017 drew to a close in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, after Stage 12 of the world’s toughest motor race. The event, run over thirteen days in Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, saw three SA-built Toyota Hilux race vehicles finish in the top 10.
It was an up-and-down event for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz (#302), who trailed Stage 12 winner, Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot) by just 30 seconds on the final stage of the event, posting the third-fastest time of the day.
In the end this was more than enough to hold off Orlando Terranova (Mini), who mounted a late charge to challenge De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz for their fifth position in the overall standings on Stage 11.
'Best of the non-Peugeot'
Stage 12 signaled the end of Dakar 2017, which saw Stephane Peterhansel notch up his 13th Dakar victory - six on motorcycles, and seven in the car category. Team mate and multiple WRC champion, Sebastien Loeb was in second place, with Cyril Despres, also in a Peugeot, rounding out the podium. They were followed home by Nani Roma and De Villiers, the best of the non-Peugeot crews.
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Toyota Gazoo Racing SA started the 2017 edition of the iconic motor race with a charge. Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah and French navigator Mathieu Baumel won the short opening stage of the race convincingly, while De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz recorded the fifth-fastest time on Stage 1. This set both crews up perfectly for the first true Dakar stage.
Stage 2 brought the expected fireworks, with Al-Attiyah/Baumel leading the stage for extended periods, before settling for the second-fastest time on the day. De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz maintained their position, finding their stride and giving the Toyota Hilux a great outing.
But then came Stage 3, and massive disappointment for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA. Al-Attiyah/Baumel started the day with vigour, and set the pace through most of the long and tricky stage. They looked set to record a second stage win for Toyota on Dakar 2017, but the Dakar gods had other plans. The Qatari driver ran wide near the end of the stage, and a jagged hole on the side of the road ripped the right rear wheel from car, severely damaging the suspension in the process.
Drama and success
With Al-Attiyah/Baumel out of the race, all attention shifted to De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz, as well as fellow Toyota crew Nani Roma and navigator Alex Haro (#305). But Stage 3 also brought disappointment for De Villiers, who last won the race in 2009.
The plucky Stellenbosch boy was putting in a solid performance, until a fuel pressure problem halted his charge. De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz were forced to stop and work through the problem, eventually losing the best part of 30 minutes in the process. This tumbled them down the order, and it was an uphill battle from there.
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At the same time, Roma/Bravo managed to fly the flag for Toyota, maintaining a fourth position in the overall standings throughout the bulk of the race. The pair was the fastest non-Peugeot in the field, and reported no technical issues with their Toyota Hilux throughout the race.
Zimbabwean driver, Conrad Rautenbach, paired with experienced navigator Rob Howie for Dakar 2017, completed the grueling race in ninth place overall. This was a stellar performance, in Rautenbach’s first Dakar Rally, and won him the Rookie of the Year award. His finishing position meant that three SA-built Toyota Hilux race vehicles completed Dakar 2017 in the top ten.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Conrad Rautenbach placed ninth in his first Dakar. Image: QuickPic