On a day that saw the Dakar Rally start to show its teeth and several of the top contenders lose time with navigating problems Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz made an early move with a trouble-free drive to second place on stage two in their Imperial Toyota Hilux.
The 2009 Dakar winners completed the 242-kilometre special stage in the deep, soft sand and dunes around Pisco in Peru 2 min 35 seconds behind 2012 champions Stephane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret of France in a Mini. The French pairing now lead the rally overall by 2 min 38 sec from the South Africans. Third overall is the SMG of another French crew, Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot, who are 1 min 8 sec behind De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz.
Their Toyota Motorsport team-mates Duncan Vos and Rob Howie finished 14th after a narrow escape when they rolled their Imperial Toyota Hilux after cresting a sand dune too fast. It landed on its wheels and they were able to continue immediately, finishing some 20 minutes behind the stage winners. They are now 13th overall, 22 min 40 sec behind Peterhansel and Cottret.
“Today’s special stage was more difficult than we expected. It was very hot – 40 degrees Centigrade outside and 60 degrees in the car. Navigation was tricky, especially with the sun making it difficult to see the tops of the dunes,” reported De Villiers. “So I didn’t go very fast in the first part of the stage, but then things got better. At the end we’re happy because the Hilux is working well and we didn’t have any problems. This is a good sign for the next few days, which should be very difficult.”
Vos commented: “The day didn’t go according to plan. We struggled to climb a tall sand dune and on the third attempt we carried too much speed and crested the dune too fast, with the Hilux rolling end over end. Luckily it landed on its wheels and we lost very little time as we were able to continue straight away.
“It was extremely hot and there were many, many dunes. Overall we felt much better than last year, but the next couple of days are going to be very tough for everyone. We have to maintain a high level of concentration and keep pushing.”
It was not only the stage that was difficult. De Villiers and Vos are both keen and accomplished mountain bikers and are among the thousands of South African cyclists who are mourning the death of South African mountain bike Olympian Burry Stander in a road accident in KwaZulu-Natal. De Villiers and Stander were personal friends and team-mates in the Specialised squad and De Villiers is carrying a photograph inside the Imperial Toyota Hilux in memory of his friend.
Monday’s stage three from Pisco to Nazca includes a 100-kilometre liaison section before a 243-kilometre special stage. Ahead lies a sequence of dunes called Ergs in Africa. All the competitors who go over them without getting stuck will be able to proudly breathe a sigh of relief. Their reward will be to take advantage of the route along the sea front on the second half of the special stage, but they will have to beware of tracks at the end of the stage that will require all their skill and vigilance.