Dakar 2019 has reached its midpoint, with the rest day at Arequipa coming after the first five racing stages. The event has proven to be extremely difficult thus far, and the expectation is for the conditions to be equally trying – if not more so – on the journey back to the Peruvian capital of Lima.
As things stand, the team is leading the charge for the title, with two-time winner Nasser Al Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel topping the standings. The Qatari star and his French co-pilot have a buffer of nearly 25 minutes over “Mr. Dakar”, Stephane Peterhansel (MINI). But the race has also brought some upsets for the team.
“There was massive disappointment for Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz on Stage 3 of the rally, when they hit a rock and lost all the oil in the engine,” explains Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “They were in the lead of the rally at the time, but lost hours on the day, and find themselves out of the fight for overall honours.”
This left Al Attiyah/Baumel and Dutch star Bernhard ten Brinke, partnered with French navigator Xavier Panseri, still in contention. But a disastrous fourth stage saw Ten Brinke/Panseri tumble down the order after a broken wishbone cost the pair hours on the day.
“Bernhard and Xavier were looking strong, but an impact with a rock early in Stage 4 cost them dearly. Giniel and Dirk stopped to help them, and lost another hour as a result. But in the end, they assisted their teammates with the repairs on the stricken car, before setting off to restrict their own time loss to just over one hour,” says Hall. “For Bernhard and Xavier, however, Stage 4 spelled the end of their charge.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing SA started Dakar 2019 with a bang. Al Attiya/Baumel won the short opening stage, putting them first on the road for Stage 2. This opened the door for De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz to capitalise on their good road position, and the pair made the most of the opportunity. Although they only set up the fourth quickest time in Stage 2, they took over the lead of the rally.
Stage 3 brought heartache for De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz, but also saw Al Attiyah/Baumel take over the lead of the rally – which meant that Toyota Gazoo Racing SA had lead every day of Dakar 2019 until the rest day. At the same time, Ten Brinke/Panseri consolidated their position, and looked to be in a great position to support their teammates.
The disaster that struck on Stage 4 left Al Attiyah and Baumel unsupported in the lead of the rally. A big push from both De Villiers and Ten Brinke in Stage 5, however, saw the two crews move into the Top 10 starting positions for Stage 6 – ideal positions to support Al Attiyah and Baumel during the second week of the rally.
A lot had to happen on the rest day before the start of Stage 6, however, with the service crews preparing all three Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux race cars for the final week. This includes a fill strip-down and examination of all critical parts; before re-assembling the cars.
“It is a mammoth task to make sure everything is ready for the final week,” concludes Hall. “But we’ve done this many times in the past, and the lads know exactly how important the work is. I’m confident that we’ll be in good shape for the second week of Dakar 2019.”
Hall summed up saying “To be in the lead of the Dakar is special. But to be at the head of the field with five stages to go, however, is a cruel mix between elation and terror.”