Toyotas have won two classes and finished fourth and fifth overall, out of a total field of 79 entrants, in an unusually tough Dakar Rally in South America.
The route was up to 800 kilometres long per day over the worst roads imaginable for the two week campaign. Spaniards Nani Roma and co-driver Alex Haro Bravo (#305) finished fourth and won the ‘Improved Production’ class in a double cab Hilux with the similar ute #302 of South Africans Giniel de Villiers, and Dirk von Zitzewitz reaching the Buenos Aires finish in fifth place.
“We are happy to be in the top ten,” said von Zitzewitz. “We have learnt a lot about the 4WD Hilux and there is room for improvement.”
The pair was only headed by three purpose built prototype vehicles as they managed to outlast other prototype entrants, including former multiple World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz.
In the ‘Standard Production Diesel’ class Frenchmen Christian Lavielle and Pierre Garcin took the class laurels in #327 with Akira Muira (Japan) and Laurent Lichtleuchter (France) runners-up with #332. Both crews were driving Toyota Land Cruisers, for a fourth consecutive class victory for the diesel Land Cruiser.
Starting in Paraguay, this year’s Dakar included high altitude stages in Bolivia over 4000 metres above sea level and several days in the Andes mountain chain. Teams encountered heavy rain and mud slides in one stage. “It was a bad day,” said de Villiers. “The heavy rain made the stage too muddy and slippery.”
“There have been high speeds, sand dunes and plenty of water,” said von Zitzewitz.
Some stages were several hundred kilometers long and required accurate navigation with large numbers of entrants getting lost after taking wrong turns.
According to Team Land Cruiser driver Lavielle, “Many drivers got lost and ended up driving around in the same place.”
This year’s event was one of the hardest ever according to regular competitors, with a wide variety of weather and driving conditions, as well as the challenging navigation.
“This Dakar is tougher than before. I feel it is more tricky,” said Robert Howie who co-drove Conrad Rautenbach to tenth overall in another Hilux.
The original Dakar was a three week marathon cross country rally from Paris to Dakar in West Africa, across the continent’s deserts and savannah from 1977 to 2007. With increasing security concerns the event was shifted to South America in 2009 and shortened to a fortnight.
The Toyotas were entered by teams from South Africa and France and are another example of Toyota’s wide variety of motorsport activity worldwide.
This coming weekend it returns to the World Rally Championship with the start of the Monte Carlo Rally. Next month Toyota will start the defence of its NASCAR stock car manufacturer’s title in the United States.
Closer to home the Castrol Toyota Racing Series is underway with more racing over the next four weekends.