UPDATE: We've included exclusive commentary from SA team Toyota Gazoo Racing at the end of the article, as well as video footage of Nasser Al-Attiyah's severely damaged Hilux.
Tupiza, Bolivia - The first three stages of Dakar 2017 brought a mix of emotions for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA.
First came an opening stage win for Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel (#301), which filled the team with pride and confidence. Stage two brought a second-place finish, but then disaster struck. Stage three saw Al-Attiyah/Baumel retire, and Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz (#302) lose the best part of thirty minutes due to a fuel pressure problem.
‘Opportunity to steady the ship’
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. Of that, 416km were covered as the special stage, which started at 4300m altitude, before finishing around the 3400m mark.
And what a stage it was!
READ: Dakar 2017 - Peugeot leads the way on Stage 4
For the Toyota crews, Stage 4 was an opportunity to steady the ship after the double-whammy disappointment of Stage 3. Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa’s De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz reported a tough start to Stage 4, after getting stuck in what the experienced duo referred to as “some of the softest dunes we’ve ever seen. Thankfully it had rained in the area recently, otherwise who knows what may have happened.”
After crossing the dunes near the start, they made good headway until two consecutive punctures slowed them down. Navigation was also a challenge on the day, which saw the pair finish in sixth place on the stage, moving them up into seventh place in the overall standings.
Giniel de Villiers. Image: QuickPic
Ray of hope
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.
For Roma/Bravo Stage 4 brought a very similar experience to that of De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz, but they managed restrict their time loss to Despres to 12min51. They are now in fifth place overall.
READ: Huge blow for SA's Toyota Gazoo Racing as Al-Attiyah retires from Dakar
After reaching the bivouac at Tupiza, Roma said: “We had a good day, and lead the stage early on. But the soft dunes and two punctures also took their toll. Still, we are pleased with our performance today, and the Toyota Hilux ran like clockwork.”
There is still a lot of racing to come, and Stage 4 proved that anything can still happen.
Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, explained: “This year’s Dakar clearly has a lot more bite than in recent years. Mark Coma is the new route director, and he seems to be dedicated to upholding the Dakar’s reputation as the toughest motor race on the planet.”
Nani Roma racing past a South African fan. Image: QuickPic
Battle still raging on
Former Dakar winner Carlos Sainz (Peugeot) rolled near the end of the stage, losing more than two hours. Early race leader and nine times world champion Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot) lost 22 minutes on the day, while multiple former winner, Stephane Peterhansel, ran up a deficit of 15min. Yazeed al Rahji (MINI), who competed for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA in 2016 was also forced to retire, clearly showing that Dakar 2017 is far from over.
READ: Dakar 2017 - Disappointment for SA's Toyota Gazoo Racing on Stage 3
Stage 5, which takes place on January 6th, takes the crews from Tupiza to Oruro over a distance of 692km. This includes 245km of liaison and 447km of special stage racing. It is a mammoth stage, with a large variety of road surfaces and terrain types. The stage has an average altitude of 3800m, with peaks over 4400m.
Dakar 2017 continues in Bolivia until January 10th, when it returns to Argentina for the final four days of racing. The race concludes in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires on January 14th.
Gazoo Racing said: Real difficult day today. This is real Dakar of old. Marc Coma stamping his authority on this race. Very, very tough day. Giniel and Dirk, unfortunately, had some navigation problems and got stuck. Very unusual. And they lost 19 minutes. But Carlos rolled, Stéphane lost 15min stuck in a big hole, Loeb stopped for 24min with an engine problem… So this race is not over. Not over at all.
The car is perfect for Giniel and Dirk, they’re ready to go tomorrow, so we are pushing flat out. We just fitted a clutch tonight to be sure, because of all the getting out of the sand hole. But in the end the clutch was okay, but we fitted a new one. Everything else is good. We’re gonna keep this fight - it’s not finished here. And Nani, he had a great, great day. He was actually leading the stage a one point, and he’s now fifth: only 10min from the lead. So anything can happen.
We can fight at this altitude; this race is not over.