La Paz, Bolivia - With the first half of Dakar 2017 done and dusted, it was time for the race crews to relax a bit, on the so-called ‘rest day’ of the 12-stage race.
While the rest day may offer some respite to the race crews, however, it is one of the busiest days on the race for the technical crews. The rest day is also a good opportunity to take stock of the race so far.
Success on Stage 1
For Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, Dakar 2017 could hardly have started better. Star driver Nasser Al-Attiyah, twice a winner of the Dakar, set a blistering pace to win the short opening stage of the event.
Together with navigator Mathieu Baumel, the pair, driving Toyota Hilux #301, took an early lead in the race. Team mates Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz (#302) posted the fifth-fastest time of the day, setting them up with a good road position for the following stage.
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Stage 2, from Resistencia to San Miguel de Tucuman, was another good one for Al-Attiyah/Baumel, who narrowly missed out on a second consecutive stage win after a small navigational error cost them some time.
Still, they posted the second-fastest time on the day, but saw the outright lead of the rally slip to Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot). De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz were fourth-fastest on the day, and found themselves in fourth position overall.
A stage to forget
Then came Stage 3, between San Miguel de Tucuman and Jujuy in northern Argentina - a turning point in the race for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA. The stage started well, especially for Al-Attiyah/Baumel. The Qatari chased hard from the get-go, and by the middle of the stage he had reeled in not only the stage leader, but also taken back the overall rally lead.
READ: Huge blow for SA's Toyota Gazoo Racing as Al-Attiyah retires from Dakar
Near the end of the 364km stage, Al-Attiyah/Baumel drove through a jagged hole on the side of the route, ripping the rear wheel off their Toyota Hilux, and irreparably damaging the suspension in the process. It meant the end of the race for them, and turned what was so nearly a triumphant stage win, into bitter disappointment for the team.
De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz lost time due to navigational problems early in the stage, but then maintained their position until the final section of the stage. But a fuel pressure problem brought a halt to their charge, and they lost 36 minutes after stopping to make repairs. This dropped them down in the overall standings, but they lived to fight another day.
Stage 4 was up next, and saw the crews depart from the Argentine town of San Salvador de Jujuy for Tupiza, in Bolivia - a total stage distance of 521km.
For the Toyota crews, Stage 4 was an opportunity to steady the ship after the disappointment of Stage 3.
READ: 'The 2017 Dakar has a lot more bite' - Toyota Gazoo Racing SA on Stage 4 battle
Nani Roma and Alex Haro Bravo (#305), driving another SA-built Toyota Hilux, run by Overdrive Racing, was the fastest Toyota crew on the day. They posted the third-fastest time on the stage, which was won by Peugeot’s Cyril Despres.
Stage 5 was the first full racing stage in Bolivia, and saw the teams go from Tupiza to Oruro via a racing stage of 447km - or that was the plan, anyway. But the Dakar gods had different ideas, and sent some severe weather to add to the challenge. As a result, the stage was shortened to just half the planned distance, robbing the teams of valuable racing distance.
Even so, Nani Roma and navigator Alex Bravo flew the flag for Toyota by finishing second on the stage, just 44 seconds behind stage winner Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot).
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The bivouac at Oruro will be one to go down in the history books. The incessant rain quickly flooded the sandy area, and turned the entire bivouac into a quagmire, which had to be closed to teams at one point, as many vehicles were stuck inside. That, together with the continued rain in the area, forced the organisers to cancel Stage 6 of Dakar 2017, in effect giving the crews an extra rest day, as they used the liaison route to transit to the Bolivian capital of La Paz.
Once the cars are fully prepared for the final assault on Dakar 2017, it will be time to focus on Stage 7. As the rest day drew to a close, it was announced that the racing section of Stage 7 has been shortened to just 161km. With that said, the stage still serves as the marathon stage of the event, which means no service for the Toyota Hilux race vehicles at the bivouac.
Team principal for Toyota Gazoo Racing, Glyn Hall, said: “This is a critical stage of the race. We aren’t allowed into the bivouac in Uyuni, and the drivers and navigators have to do basic servicing themselves. It is a heart-in-the-mouth situation, as we are powerless to help if anything goes wrong.”
Stage 7 runs over 622km, including the shortened racing stage of 161km. The altitude remains high for the time being, until the race crosses back into Argentina later in the week.