Drivers and riders alike are left at the mercy of the rally tracks of Argentina, the massive dunes of the Atacama in Chile and high plains of Bolivia. Words such as dangerous, treacherous, impossible and downright mad are used to sugar coat this race, this, is the Dakar rally...
Despite the danger a little South African team took on the might of the Dakar and its competitors. The Toyota Imperial South African Dakar Team went up against some big names for the fourth time and thanks to their fighting spirit, they returned home carrying a trophy.
South African rally legend Giniel de Villiers and his German navigator, Dirk von Zitzewitz secured second place this year.
The Toyota Imperial SA Dakar Team had been more prepared than ever before, heading into the 2015 Dakar. Lighter and more powerful than ever the Hilux was ready to take the fight to Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah and his turbo-diesel powered Mini.
We were given an exclusive opportunity to meet the team upon arrival at O.R Tambo yesterday and find out just what happened at the Dakar this year...
"Nasser is a very experienced and fast competitor, and catching him is never easy - never mind what you're driving” said de Villiers.
De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz (#303) were in a position to challenge for the lead early in the race, but their navigational gamble, together with moments of pure bad luck, saw them losing ground over Al-Attiyah, rather than making it up.
On one of the stages which took place on the vast salt flats Giniel got right up behind Al-Attiyah, touching the rear of his mini at 196kph. This was one of my highlights of the race as Giniel explained why he had done this.
The Hilux was unable to pass the Mini head on due to wind resistance but pulling into the slipstream created by the Mini he was able to go faster. De Villiers decided to push the Mini (help him along) to get ahead of slower competitors before they all converge on a single road exiting the 100km long salt flat. De Villiers had a better chance fighting Al-Attiyah one on one rather than having to deal with other competitors.
This little stunt resulted in a 2 minute lead over the other competitors. Unfortunately a helicopter filming the action got too close and kicked up some dust which resulted in Giniel having to slow down due to a lack of visibility.
“In the end the Dakar simply isn't an easy race to win..." said team principle Glyn Hall.”There are a lot of teams trying. Yet here we stand, holding the trophy for second place” he added.
Another South African driver also took part in the rally, young gun Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie in the second Toyota Imperial Hilux (#327) showed exceptional pace throughout the race, but a broken suspension part cost them significant time early on. They also missed one waypoint during the event, and were docked 40 minutes for the transgression.
As a result they finished in sixteenth position overall, but they were on course to win the final stage of the event. Sadly the organisers halted Stage 13 - between Rosario and Buenos Aires - after just one waypoint, due to flooding on the route. This meant that American Robby Gordon, who was leading at the time of the cancellation, was awarded the stage win, with Poulter/Howie posting a time just 25 seconds off his pace.
"We had a good race, and learnt a lot this year," Poulter explained. "This isn't a race you come and win on your debut, and not on your second year either. It takes time to understand the workings of the Dakar, but I really feel that we've grown a lot this year."
Both drivers proved that despite the gruelling task ahead, a victory is possible for the Imperial Toyota Dakar team. Hard work and a fighting spirit is what they are known for.
With Giniel closing the gap on Nasser every year I'm confident that next year we will be in for something special. With a great team, a legendary Hilux and the support from a nation I reckon our boys can win this thing.