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Toughest Dakar Rally yet: Incredible end to world’s most gruelling race

2018-01-21 19:31

John Floyd

Argentina - It was almost a fairy tale ending, no one could have possibly scripted the finale of the 2018 Dakar Rally that well. 

All who followed the progress of the event, especially the progress of the Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa (TGRSA) team must have been on the edge of their seats following the events of the penultimate stage of the previous day.

Ultimately though, Peugeot's Carlos Sainz clinched overall victory at the 2018 Dakar Rally with Toyota's Nasser Al-Attiyah in 2nd and SA's Giniel de Villiers finishing in third place. 

Great finale

Special stage 13 was a significant point in the team’s efforts to reach the podium, it was a day of mixed emotions for both Toyota and Peugeot entries. It was the end for the hard charging Bernhard ten Brinke and co-driver Michel Perin whose fantastic performance had seen a stage victory and consistent top five overall finishes.

It was all to end early in SS13 when the Hilux engine cried enough, the first such failure for Toyota in five years, and meant a disappointing retirement for the team.

Peugeot’s front runners Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean Paul Cottret were to lose their solid second place after a crash cost them 57 minutes and a drop to fourth overall. This opened the door for two TGRSA teams, Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel, and Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz to take second and third position behind leader Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz.

Giniel wins the Stage, Sainz wins the Dakar 

The final stage, SS14, meant that Sainz only had to keep it on the road for 120km to take his second Dakar victory. Al-Attiyah trailed Sainz by 46 minutes and de Villiers a further 34 minutes in arrears, but it was the presence of the recovered Peterhansel behind the South African that posed a threat, Sainz just 8 minutes back.

But de Villiers once again proved that he is always difficult to beat, taking victory on the final stage, 40 seconds ahead of Peterhansel to ensure that two steps on the podium belonged to Toyota. The gap between first and third after 7000km of incredibly difficult and testing terrain was just 1 hour 16 minutes and 41 seconds.

It may not have been the targeted top step of the podium but the determination of everyone in the TGRSA team led by Glyn Hall to get the new Hilux to the finish of the toughest event on the planet is a fantastic result, placing two of the new cars on the podium is legendary.

It all began in Peru…

It was just 14 days previously competitors left the carnival atmosphere of the start in the Peruvian capital Lima and joined the South Pan-American Highway on route to SS1. The short 31km stage through the soft sand of the dunes would decide the following day’s starting order.
It was Al-Attiyah who took the stage and would lead the field into SS2.

A change of format for SS2 meant Al-Attiyah would start ahead of the motorcycles therefore facing totally virgin sand with no tracks to offer route clues, a daunting task. Unfortunately co-driver Baumel fell violently ill on the route resulting in two stops which cost the team around 14 minutes. It was kinder to de Villiers who mastered the tricky conditions over the 267km stage, finishing fourth fastest while ten Brinke was ninth quickest despite having beached his Hilux on top of a dune.

The Peugeot team took the honours, multiple Dakar winner, Stephane Peterhansel, setting the pace with team mates Cyril Despres and Sebastien Loeb close behind.

Advantage Peugeot

Stage 3 and the TGRSA attacked on the very difficult 296km stage from Pisco to San Juan de Marcona, a stage that took a heavy toll on many competitors. Al-Attiyah won the stage by over four minutes moving into third place overall. Peugeot continued to fight at the front with Peterhansel fending off Depres.

De Villiers struggled in airborne dust to log sixth fastest with team mate ten Brinke close behind in seventh.

Argentinean Lucio Alvarez with SA co-driver Robert Howie in the Overdrive Toyota Hilux, recovered after rolling in SS2 and losing 3 hours, to finish a very credible tenth.

Disaster strikes Depres

Special stage 4, a 330km loop around San Juan de Marcona, in the Peruvian dunes was to be the nemesis for several competitors. Depres’ Peugeot suffered suspension damage, effectively ending any chance of a win.

The three remaining works Peugeots of Peterhansel, Loeb and Carlos Sainz once again led the field, with Loeb taking the win from the Spaniard. TGRSA experienced various problems. Punctures played a role for all including eighth fastest ten Brinke who finished just behind Alvarez. Al-Attiyah became stuck in a sand dune, these incidents costing almost an hour, similar problems beset de Villiers who had to settle for 17th fastest.

Gearbox woes in the dunes

The last day in Peru and SS5, a Peterhansel victory with ten Brinke second fastest, de Villiers third and Al-Attiyah who lost twenty minutes due to a gearbox change but still brought his Hilux home fifth fastest of the day.

The 266km San Juan de Marcona to Arequipa route saw the demise of another front runner when only 5km into the stage Loeb experienced a big off and was stopped for nearly three hours before receiving assistance. Unfortunately his co-driver Daniel Elena was experiencing serious pain due to a coccyx injury and the team was forced to retire.

Sainz lost 18 minutes in the dunes and remained second, over half an hour behind Peterhansel. The TGRSA team filled the next three spots all over an hour back.

Rocky Bolivia

Leaving Peru and into Bolivia the teams faced rocky mountains and copious quantities of standing muddy water on the 313km special stage 6 and climbed to 4800 meters above sea level. It was a tough one for the normally aspirated Hilux’s but the team acquitted themselves well taking third, fourth and seventh positions on the stage.

Peterhansel crashed heavily and damaged his rear suspension and was assisted by the still running Depres, but lost more than an hour and a half. This handed the lead to his team mate Sainz.

At the rest day in La Paz it became evident how tough this year’s Dakar was with around 40% of the cars having dropped out and it was not yet half way.

Rain wreaks havoc

The restart and it was the marathon stage with crews not permitted to receive any assistance from their service crews. Heavy rains created havoc for many of the teams but at the end of the first 425km stage the SA teams were still in a strong position with de Villiers second fastest, Al-Attiyah third and ten Brinke seventh. The only problem encountered was a faulty windscreen wiper motor for the Dutchman.

Stage 8, the second half of the marathon was a further 500km that was wet and very muddy the leader board remained fairly static despite de Villiers losing 20 minutes after becoming stuck in a ditch.

The inclement weather led to the cancellation of stage 9 and effectively offered a little breathing space.

Fending off challenges…and stomach bugs

Lower altitudes and a return to the sand for the run to Belen and de Villiers fought off a stomach bug to finish second fastest on the 373km stage 10. For ten Brinke it was a stage of mixed results but despite punctures and stuck on a dune he managed a very creditable fifth quickest. Not so for Al-Attiyah who had a stage he would rather forget. After a good start he suffered a left rear suspension failure and dropped 30 minutes as he limped home.

Epic finale looms

Stage 11 and the most feared of the event from Belen to Chilecito via the notorious dunes of the Fiambala, a 280km stage that has often turned the Dakar on its head.

It held no fear for ten Brinke who set the fastest time beating the opposition by more than 4 seconds, his team mates taking fifth and sixth while the Peugeot crews still battled at the front.

From Flambala/Chilecito to San Juan was the twelfth stage of the rally and it was TGRSA’s Al-Attiyah who set the pace taking 2 minutes from Peterhansel on the longest timed stage of the event.

At the end of this stage the overall positions were:

1. Sainz 42h24m31s
2. Peterhansel +44m41s
3. Al-Attiyah +1h5m55s
4. Ten Brinke +1h17m21s
5. De Villiers +1h26m31s
And so the scene was set for the incredible finale…


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