ASUNCIÓN, PARAGUAY – To most people, the first day of a new year is traditionally a day of rest, but January 1st saw Toyota Gazoo Racing SA complete their final pre-race preparations, including crossing the ceremonial start podium in downtown Asunción.
The ceremonial start was a glitzy event, with each competitor making their way across a raised podium, while the announcer read off their names and home countries. As ever the start was attended by many thousands of Dakar fans, and the two Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux made their way across the podium at 20:30 in the evening.
“It’s all part of the build-up,” explained Toyota stalwart Giniel de Villiers (#302) after crossing the podium. “Next up is the harsh reality of the Dakar. And even though Stage 1 is a short one, the fact of the matter is that we’ve now reached the point where all that’s left to do is the race itself.”
De Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz were the third car over the start podium, with Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel (#301) crossing two minutes before them. As much as the start ceremony added to Dakar 2017 in terms of glamour, both crews are looking forward to getting the short opening stage behind them.
“It is only a short stage tomorrow,” said Al-Attiyah from Asunción. “But even so every kilometre is important in this race, and we’re certainly taking Stage 1 very seriously indeed.”
The stage has a total distance of 454 km, though only 39 km will be contested as the racing stage. The balance of 415 km consists of liaison sections, first taking the crews to the start of the stage, and then on to the first bivouac at Resistencia, in the north of Argentina.
“It may be a fairly gentle introduction to the race,” said Glyn Hall, team principal Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, after the opening ceremony, “but don’t let that fool you. The crews will start Stage 2 based on their performance during the opening stage, and as such they won’t want to slide too far down the order. Winning the opener isn’t that important, but it is extremely important to jostle for a good road position on Stage 2.”
Stage 1 starts at 11:03 local time (five hours behind South African time), but the first crews are only expected in the overnight bivouac around 16:30 in the afternoon. In between lie an exciting opening stage, as well as a border crossing from Paraguay, who played host to the Dakar Rally for the first time this year, to the more familiar territory of Argentina.
— Arrive Alive (@_ArriveAlive) January 2, 2017