ABRA PAMPA, ARGENTINA – The Argentine town of Abra Pampa isn’t much more than a spec on the map, but at the end of Stage 8 of Dakar 2017, it served as a makeshift bivouac for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA. The team was forced to complete an entire service on the side of the road near the town, as a massive landslide prohibited them from reaching the official bivouac at Salta. The result was that January 10th turned out to be one of the longest days on this year’s race, and even Nani Roma, competing in his 22nd Dakar, said this year’s race was “the toughest I’ve ever seen.”
Roma and navigator Alex Bravo (#305) successfully completed the second part of the marathon section, which consisted of Stages 7 and 8, run consecutively with no assistance allowed in between. The first part of the route took the race crews to a bivouac at the Bolivian town of Uyuni, while the second part – Stage 8 – brought the Dakar back to Argentina, with a scheduled bivouac at the city of Salta.
The Toyota crew posted the 7th fastest time on the day, 14:26 behind stage winner, Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot). They dropped to fourth in the overall standings as a result, with Peugeot’s Cyril Despres moving up into third place.
It was a better result for Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz (#302), despite having to fight with their backs to the wall because of the extreme altitudes experienced on the stage. The Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew went 5th fastest on the day, losing just shy of twelve minutes to the stage winner. This leaves them in sixth place in the overall standings.
“The turbo-charged cars definitely had a big advantage on the stage,” said De Villiers from the makeshift service point at Abra Pampa. “But we managed to restrict our time loss, and from tomorrow we’re down at lower altitudes, so we’ll be looking to get into the thick of the fight.”
De Villiers was also relieved to be done with the tough marathon section, and neither of the two Toyota Hilux race vehicles required serious repairs after Stage 8. This was a relief for the technical crews, who found themselves facing not only a roadside service, but also a massive drive over treacherous terrain to reach the bivouac in the early hours of the following morning.
With so many race and support crews stuck away from the bivouac, the organisers had no choice but to cancel Stage 9. All crews will follow the liaison route to the Argentine town of Chilecito, where racing will resume with Stage 10 on January 12th.
“This makes it even trickier for us,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal Glyn Hall after learning of the stage cancellation. “There are few stages at low altitude, and we need every race kilometre to make up time. Add to that the fact that Stage 9 was slated to be a stern test for the navigators, and it could well have been a turning point for us in the race.”