After nine days and nearly 5 000 kilometres, the 33rdDakar Rally has now spanned the South American continent from the Argentine shore of the Atlantic Ocean in the east, across the Andes Mountains at a height of 4700 metres above sea level, to Chile’s Pacific west coast.
Along the way, 50 of the 161 cars that started the race in Mar del Plata on January 1 have fallen out.
Among the 111 survivors after Monday’s stage eight are three South African-built Toyota Hilux double cab bakkies and a South African-designed and built two-wheel drive Toyota-engined buggy.
Five special stages in Argentina and two in Chile, totalling nearly 2000 kilometres of racing are under the belt; two more in Chile and four in Peru lie ahead before the winners mount the podium in Lima on January 15.
Former South African off road champion and 2009 Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers is fifth overall in his Imperial Toyota Hilux, team-mate and four-time national champion Duncan Vos is 11th and Mark Corbett, a former winner of the Roof of Africa Rally in Lesotho and the Toyota Desert Race in Botswana, is 20th.
A third Toyota Hilux, driven by Argentine privateer Lucio Alvarez, is ninth overall.
Just 37 minutes cover the first five cars. Currently leading is three-time former winner of the car category Stephane Peterhansel of France in a Mini, who is 7min 36sec ahead of American Robbie Gordon in a Hummer with Mini team-mate Krzysztof Holowczyc of Poland a further 12 seconds back.
Alvarez is 2hr4min 15sec behind the leader with Vos 2hr 23min 38sec in arrears.
All three Toyotas were built and developed by Toyota Motorsport in Johannesburg and the fact that they are all in the top dozen as the Dakar Rally enters its final stages is a major achievement for Imperial Toyota team manager Glyn Hall and his small and dedicated team.
De Villiers, competing in his ninth Dakar and sixth with German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz, has not been out of the top five since the endurance rally began, running as high as second after stage four on January 4. Vos and co-driver Rob Howie are more than holding their own in their debut appearance in the world’s longest and toughest motor sport event. They have got stronger as the race has progressed and enjoyed their first top-10 stage result on Monday.
Hall is justifiably proud of his team’s performance so far. “We have had no mechanical problems whatsoever. The Toyotas are running like clockwork and holding up very well to the high temperatures and very demanding ‘road’ conditions. Although we are outgunned by the superior top speed of the unlimited Hummers in the longer, straight sections and by the greater torque of the turbo-diesel Minis in the sand, we are more than holding our own in the conditions. The Toyota’s reliability and toughness is proving to be a big advantage.”
Giniel’s tweet day10: “Long tricky stage today. Robbie and Peterhansel pushing hard… We just watch and stay clean.”
Duncan’s tweet day10: “St 9,a good day for us. Some issues- broken exhaust header,gear linkage problem which rob fixed- otherwise very fast , tricky nav- 9 o/all”