WORLD'S TOUGHEST RACE: Giniel de Villiers gets his Hilux airborne during testing in the Northern Cape. Image: Quickpic
Upington - With the final pre-Dakar 2017 test session now done and dusted, Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa has announced a two-car line-up for the iconic race, which takes place during the first two weeks of next year.
SA cross-country champion Leeroy Poulter, won't be racing in South America. The 34-year-old is still recovering from surgery he underwent in September to remove cyst on the right side of his brain.
Two Dakar champions
The team now features two former Dakar winners, in the form of Giniel de Villiers, partnered with Dirk von Zitzewitz; and Nasser Al Attiyah, with Matthieu Baumel beside him.
De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz have campaigned the Toyota Hilux in Dakar since 2012, achieving podium finishes in all but one attempt so far. The pair have proven themselves as highly accomplished and experienced campaigners, having won the event together in 2009.
QATARI: Nasser Al Attiyah, two-time Dakar Rally champion, will drive for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA at Dakar 2017. Image: Sean Parker
Furthermore, De Villiers has one of the highest start-to-podium ratios in the history of the Dakar, and has missed out on a Top 10 finish only once since he first tackled the race in 2003.
Al Attiyah and Baumel may be new to the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team, but they're certainly no strangers to the Toyota Hilux.
The pair fielded a South-African built Toyota Hilux in this year's FIA Cross-Country World Cup, winning each round they entered, and taking the championship in the process. In addition, they also won the grueling Rally of Morocco in October 2016.
SA DAKAR WINNER: Giniel de Villiers will enter his 15th Dakar Rally in 2017. Image: Sean Parker
Team principal Hall said: "We were all very excited about the arrival of the Evo, which we unveiled earlier this year.
"However, despite the promising performance of the car, we've found significantly more performance in the four-wheel-drive during parallel testing. This, together with Nasser and Matthieu's victories abroad, have made it clear to us that the four-wheel-drive is more than capable of taking on the very best cars and drivers in the world."
The team says the four-wheel-drive Hilux has also proven to be reliable race vehicle in the past, and with a bigger air restrictor - due to the average altitude of Dakar 2017 being above 2000 metres.
The team conducted their final test session, in preparation for Dakar 2017, at a location near Upington in the Northern Cape this week. The rough and sandy terrain of the area allowed them to test the Hilux in conditions that closely mimic those encountered on many Dakar stages, including rocky sections and soft dune crossings.
Hall said: "The performance of the Hilux at this week's test was highly encouraging, it was also great to have Nasser and Matthieu here on South African soil, putting the car through its paces, and giving invaluable feedback in preparation for the race."
The race starts in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción on January 2 and will competitors will race through Bolivia and Argentina, finishing in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires on January 14.