Toyota pair just more motivated for a win after helicopter debacle

2015-01-13 00:00

AS the car drivers in the Dakar rested yesterday, the Imperial Toyota team’s lead drivers Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz had good reason to fume.

They led Sunday’s fast stage for most of the 510 km distance, only to crash into a rock as the downdraft from a helicopter kicked up a blinding cloud of fesh-fesh dust.

The resulting puncture cost them three minutes, as well as the stage win and valuable gains made over leading driver Nasser Al-Attiyah before the incident.

“We lodged a protest with the stewards immediately after the stage,” explained team principal Glyn Hall from the bivouac.

“They deliberated for hours, but in the end they decided to reject our appeal to have the time lost due to their chopper returned to us. It is very disappointing to lose time in a situation that was clearly not of our doing — but that’s the way it is and at least we are still in the fight for the win.”

For the crew of the second Toyota Imperial Hilux, Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie, it has been a race of emotional highs and lows. The pair have been extremely fast at times, but time lost on Stage 6 after they missed a waypoint effectively dropped them down and out of the running for overall victory. They are currently in 17th place overall.

“All we can do now is to keep going as hard as we can, without damaging the car. And if we continue doing that until the end, I’m sure we’ll end up in a good position,” said Poulter.

South African privateers Johan van Staden and co-driver Mike Lawrenston are maintaining a Top-40 position with the aim to finish, lying 33rd overall in their Nissan Navara.

Halfway into the Dakar almost half of the quads that started have withdrawn, but SA quad rider Hannes Saaijman is now 11th overall, having clocked times that pushed him in the top 10 at stages.

Among the bikers, KTM Broadlink rider Adriaan van Niekerk is lying 12th overall while Albert Hintenaus, who is racing with no back-up crew or mechanic in the tough malle-moto class, is 56th overall. Hintenaus (47) from Johannesburg said the Dakar is mostly a mental race. “I guess that even for top guys, the aim is to finish. No-one goes on the Dakar saying: ‘I’m going to win’. It’s part of the mystery. You have to live it on a day-by-day basis.” He said he applied to be one of the few to ride in the malle-moto class “to get back into the adventure mode”.

Today’s Dakar stage sees the racers cross the Andes back into Argentina for the final four stages, all at low altitudes that will suit the naturally aspirated V8 Lexus engines in the Toyota Imperial Hilux bakkies.

“That could be a key aspect of the race in the final stages,” said Hall, “but we have to take it one day at a time. It isn’t an easy race to win, but this is the best position we’ve been in at this point, and if ever we’ve been in with a shot, this is it.”

“It is very disappointing to lose time in a situation that was clearly not of our doing — but that’s the way it is and at least we are still in the fight for the win.”

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