Al-Attiyah snatches outright Dakar Rally lead after first stage

Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota Hilux, Overdrive Racing, Dakar 2017

Monday, January 2: The eight Toyota Hiluxes crews being run by Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa and Overdrive Racing were in superb form through the opening 39km special stage of the 2017 Dakar Rally, as the rally headed out of Asunción in Paraguay and moved towards Resistencia in northern Argentina on Monday.

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel opened their account in a Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa Hilux, running with additional support from Red Bull and Ooredoo, with a time of 25min 41sec to take the outright lead by the margin of 24 seconds. It was the Qatari’s 26th Dakar stage win, although he did finish the stage with some smoke and a small fire inside the car.

With support from Monster Energy, Air Europa, Alpine Stars and Michelin, Joan Roma and Alex Haro carded the third quickest time in their Overdrive-run car and South African Giniel de Villiers and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz moved into fifth overall in the second Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux.

The opening stage of 39km was hardly demanding by Dakar standards, but it made history in different ways. It was the first competitive section of the Dakar to be held in Paraguay and gave the South American country the distinction of becoming the 29th nation to ever host a competitive stage of the event.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa and Overdrive Racing teams consist of eight cars in this year’s Dakar, with drivers taking part from eight countries in a truly multi-cultural operation. The Toyotas had joined a further 79 cars in an entry of 318 vehicles at the ceremonial start on New Year’s Day, which was overseen by the Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes.

Top 10 start for Dutchman Van Loon

The Dutch crew of Erik van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar rounded off the top 10 in their Overdrive Racing Toyota and Conrad Rautenbach and Robert Howie were 15th on the Zimbabwean’s Dakar debut in a Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota Hilux. The French pairing of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot were classified in 19th.

The seventh nationality amongst the drivers in the Toyota team is the Argentinean Alejandro Yacopini and his fellow countryman Daniel Merlo. The Mendoza driver began his Dakar campaign with the 35th quickest time.

The all-Chinese pairing of He Zhitao and Kai Zhao are crewing an eighth Overdrive Toyota Hilux running under the Boundless Young Team banner. The Chinese completed the race in 65th overall last year and began his challenge for 2017 honours with the 44th fastest time.

The opening day’s route headed out of the Paraguayan capital of Asunción towards the city of Resistencia, the largest city in the province of Chaco in north-eastern Argentina, renowned for its hot summers and agriculture. In a route of 454km, only 39km were competitive to the east of the host city, but there was no margin for error on the technical tracks chosen by race officials.

Tomorrow (January 3), the route heads across the notorious Grand Chaco to the city of San Miguel de Tucumán, the fifth largest city in Argentina, situated in the north-west of the country close to the foothills of the Andes. There is a different special stage on offer for the truck category, although motorcycles, quads and cars will tackle a competitive section of 275km in a total route of 805km.

Photo: Marcel Vermeij