Bakkies vs Minis in Dakar

2015-01-05 00:00

BUENOS AIRES — The first day’s racing in the Dakar 2015 in Beunos Aires, Argentinia, yesterday (late last night SA time) saw the Hilux bakkies squaring up against the lighter Minis.

Eight South Africans are competing in this year’s edition, including three bike riders, two quad bike racers and five car racers.

Yesterday’s ceremonial start involved every crew driving their motorcycle, quad bike, truck or production race vehicle over a ramp and around a short parade route — with nearly a million Argentine fans looking on. It’s one of the spectacles of the world’s toughest motor race and it took several hours for the 414 competitors to complete the ceremony.

The start in Buenos Aires was followed by the first stage — a 170 km run, consisting of fast tracks with sharp bends, more akin to a traditional rally stage than the spectacular open vistas of the Dakar.

Top-ranked Mini driver Nasser Al-Attiyah said the stage was a bit too fast, but he and co-driver, Frenchman Mathieu Baumel, got off to a good start.

“We needed to know where everyone stands. We might be able to be more aggressive tomorrow. There were a few tricky spots where we didn’t take any risks. The car worked perfectly and, if we win, it’ll also be great to open the track [today]. As is usual in the Dakar, the short race was then followed by by long liaison stage of 519 km to the race’s first bivouac at the Argentine town of Villa Carlos Paz. No racing takes place on the liaison stages.

In the Toyota camp meanwhile, South African team principal Glyn Hall was happy with the fourth ranking Giniel de Villiers and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz notched in their new Hilux racer.

Team-mates Leeroy Poulter and Robert Howie placed 14th. The other SA drivers, Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson in a Nissan, did not place in the top 50 yessterdy.

De Villiers, who won the race in 2009, this year has a totally re-engineered Hilux to back his assault. De Villiers said the Mini drivers pose the main competition for the Hilux.

“Nasser al-Attiyah, Nani Roma and Orlando Terranova are all fast and we’ve seen how strong those cars are at high altitude.

“That said, this is a new year, and we have a new, more powerful and lighter Hilux. So let’s wait and see what happens …”

For Poulter Dakar 2015 is a chance to improve on his 33rd at the end of the 2014 event. The Johannesburg-based driver has completed a full season in the South African cross-country championship and is confident that the extra hours in the race vehicle, together with navigator Howie, will make a huge difference.

“Not only that,” he said, “but we’ve also done a Dakar together now, so my entire mental state and outlook on the race is better now than in 2014. I’ve a much clearer picture of what to do and can’t wait to get out there.”

The team have fielded two brand-new Hilux racing bakkies.

They have a redesigned exterior, slightly larger air-restricter (37 mm vs 36 mm in 2014), new suspension, lower overall weight and many other significant changes.

The vehicle was built in response to changes in the International Automobile Federation’s Dakar regulations, and it’s hoped they will level the playing field between the V8 petrol engines of the Toyota Imperial Hilux and the turbocharged diesel engines of the Mini team.

“We are confident that our new race vehicle is better than ever — it may be our best shot yet,” said Hall.

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