TUPIZA, BOLIVIA – The first three stages of Dakar 2017 brought a mix of emotions for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA. First came an opening stage win for Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel (#301), which filled the team with pride and confidence. Stage two brought a second-place finish, but then disaster struck. Stage three saw Al-Attiyah/Baumel retire, and Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz (#302) lose the best part of thirty minutes due to a fuel pressure problem.
Stage 4 was up next, and saw the crews depart from the Argentine town of San Salvador de Jujuy for Tupiza, in Bolivia – a total stage distance of 521 km. Of that, 416 km were covered as the special stage, which started at 4,300 m altitude, before finishing around the 3,400 m mark. And what a stage it was!
For the Toyota crews, Stage 4 was an opportunity to steady the ship after the double-whammy disappointment of Stage 3. Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz reported a tough start to Stage 4, after getting stuck in what the experienced duo referred to as “some of the softest dunes we’ve ever seen. Thankfully it had rained in the area recently, otherwise who knows what may have happened.”
After crossing the dunes near the start, they made good headway until two consecutive punctures slowed them down. Navigation was also a challenge on the day, which saw the pair finish in sixth place on the stage, moving them up into seventh place in the overall standings.
Nani Roma and Alex Haro Bravo (#305), driving another SA-built Toyota Hilux, run by Overdrive Racing, was the fastest Toyota crew on the day. They posted the third-fastest time on the stage, which was won by Peugeot’s Cyril Despres. For Roma/Bravo Stage 4 brought a very similar experience to that of De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz, but they managed restrict their time loss to Despres to 12:51. They are now in fifth place overall.
“We had a good day, and lead the stage early on” said the Spanish driver after reaching the bivouac at Tupiza. “But the soft dunes and two punctures also took their toll. Still, we are pleased with our performance today, and the Toyota Hilux ran like clockwork.”
There is still a lot of racing to come, and Stage 4 proved that anything can still happen. Former Dakar winner Carlos Sainz (Peugeot) rolled near the end of the stage, losing more than two hours. Early race leader and nine times world champion Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot) lost 22 minutes on the day, while multiple former winner, Stephane Peterhansel, ran up a deficit of 15 minutes. Yazeed al Rahji (MINI), who competed for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA in 2016 was also forced to retire, clearly showing that Dakar 2017 is far from over.
“This year’s Dakar clearly has a lot more bite than in recent years,” explained Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, from the bivouac at Tupiza. “Mark Coma is the new route director, and he seems to be dedicated to upholding the Dakar’s reputation as the toughest motor race on the planet.”
Stage 5, which takes place on January 6th, takes the crews from Tupiza to Oruro over a distance of 692 km. This includes 245 km of liaison and 447 km of special stage racing. It is a mammoth stage, with a large variety of road surfaces and terrain types. The stage has an average altitude of 3,800 metres, with peaks over 4,400 metres.
Dakar 2017 continues in Bolivia until January 10th, when it returns to Argentina for the final four days of racing. The race concludes in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires on January 14th.