It was a good day in hot Chile for the five South African-built Toyota Hilux 4x4s on the Dakar Rally on Thursday. After a second crossing of the Andes Mountains and the heat of the Atacama Desert, all safely reached the overnight bivouac.
Third place on the 319-kilometre special stage between Fiambala and Copiapo saw Toyota Imperial South Africa Team’s Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz close to within 50 minutes of the overall leaders, defending champions Stephane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret of France in a Mini.
Nani Roma of Spain and French co-driver Michel Perin took the stage win in a Mini ahead of Americans Robbie Gordon and Kellon Walch in a Hummer, with De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz just seven seconds behind the Americans and 1 min 38 sec in front of fourth-placed Peterhansel and Perin. Roma and Perin move up to third overall and are 40 min 45 sec behind De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz.
Significant for the South African/German duo in Imperial Toyota Hilux #301 was the fact that the Russian pairing of Leonid Novitskiy and Konstantin Zhiltsov (Mini), who started the day’s stage 16 minutes behind them in the general classification, only managed to finish ninth and have now dropped to fourth overall behind Roma and Perin.
South Africa’s best-selling bakkie for more than 30 years continues to make a big impact on the global stage of the world’s longest and toughest motor race. Behind the Imperial Toyota Hilux of De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz in the general classification with only two special stages remaining before the finish in Santiago, Chile, the four customer Hilux bakkies all improved their overall positions on Thursday and are now 9th, 11th, 12th and 13th in the general classification.
“We just wanted to have a clean stage, but for sure, today's stage was a lot tougher than I expected it to be,” said De Villiers. “With a long liaison this morning at high altitude, that makes you really tired as well and then you have to do a tough stage like today. It needed a lot of concentration. There were quite long dune crossings and really tricky places in the dunes. Then, on the tracks there were lots of rocks, so you really had to be very precise so as not to hit any rocks. It was not an easy day, but we're happy to be here.
“We lost about thirty seconds at one of the way points in the dunes. We couldn't make it up to that one, so we had to turn around and sort of go around, because at that point I was quite close to Lucio (Alvarez) and I saw he put a gap between us again.
“I think tomorrow's going to be tough as well, more tough than today. It's not over yet.”
Von Zitzewitz: “We’ve studied the route very carefully each night and been well prepared for each stage. Our preparations certainly paid off today. On Friday we face another tough test, which could be even tougher than today’s. Celebrations would be premature today, too much hinges on the 13th stage. But we are ready.”
Friday’s penultimate special stage between Copiapo and La Serena in Chile will show respect to a local meteorological phenomenon, called Camanchaca. This stubborn fog will be very dense during the first part of the morning and it will only be once it has lifted that the rally will get underway. Competitors will tackle the last dunes of this 34th edition of the Dakar. The sandy part represents a third of the 441-kilometre special stage. For the rest it is a trip south on wide tracks with lots of stones before they reach the last bivouac of the rally.
STORY BY TOYOTA