Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Al-Attiyah loses Dakar Rally lead in third special stage

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Al-Attiyah loses Dakar Rally lead in third special stage

Wednesday, January 4: In a dramatic turn of events, Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa lost the outright lead of the Dakar Rally and a potential second stage win on the shorter second section of the third timed test, held at altitude between San Miguel de Tucumán and San Salvador de Jujuy in Argentina, on Wednesday afternoon.

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel started the day second on the road and a mere 28 seconds behind the multiple WRC champion Sébastien Loeb. The Toyota Hilux crew quickly caught and passed the Frenchman, although Stéphane Peterhansel was also running well further down the field and passed the opening passage control with the virtual stage lead.

Al-Attiyah became embroiled in a frantic scrap with his nearest rivals as the stage progressed, held the advantage at the WP4 checkpoint and went on to finish the first section of 240km, 1min 57sec ahead of Peterhansel. The second section was held at a higher altitude and the Qatari resumed strongly, before being forced to stop at the 414km point after slamming into a hole and smashing a wheel.

Peterhansel went on to claim the stage win and Loeb topped the general classification, as Al-Attiyah eventually restarted after making temporary repairs, stopped again near the end and eventually reached the stage finish 2hr 17min behind Peterhansel and slipped to 25th overall.

Overdrive Racing’s Roma maintains fifth; Toyota Gazoo’s De Villiers down in 10th

Al-Attiyah’s Toyota team-mates, Joan Roma and Giniel de Villiers, held eighth and ninth after the first part of the stage in their Toyota Hiluxes, but the pair compounded Toyota’s day of disappointment over the closing kilometres.

Roma and Alex Haro looked set to finish the special in fifth until they stopped near the end for several minutes and eventually recorded the eighth quickest time, although they maintained fifth overall.

De Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz stopped with fuel pump issues and lost their position inside the top five in the overall standings. They managed to finish the stage in a time of 4hr 54min 40sec, 36 minutes behind the stage winner, and slipped from fourth to 10th overall.

The French pairing of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot began the day just outside the top 20 in their Overdrive Toyota and benefiting from the problems that befell several of their rivals to record the 11th quickest time and climb nine places to 12th overall.

Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach suffered a setback on his Dakar debut with the Toyota Gazoo Racing team and South African co-driver Robert Howie. He reached San Salvador de Jujuy in 21st overall after his own fair share of problems.

Alejandro Yacopini and Daniel Merlo delighted their home crowds with another solid performance. The Argentineans were 32nd at the start of the day and reached the Andes foothills and the night stop in 27th position.

He Zhitao and Kai Zhao are running an Overdrive Toyota Hilux under the Boundless Young Team banner and benefited from the carnage on the third stage to climb six places to 30th.

The Dutch crew of Erik van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar slipped out of the top 10 in their Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux after stopping with their own technical issues on the second section of the stage. They lost close to three hours and slumped to 36th overall.

Today and tomorrow

The day’s special stage consisted of 364km of competition in a route of 780km between San Miguel de Tucumán and San Salvador de Jujuy, although the trucks missed out on the narrow, technical climbs in the foothill of the Andes and tackled a shorter stage. The first 240km section started to the north-west of the overnight halt, included sandy tracks and tricky navigation, and then featured a 148km neutralised zone that climbed to 5,000 metres under the shadow of the towering Andes mountain range. Much of the closing 124km of the second section took place at over 3,400 metres and temperatures dropped from the mid-thirties at the start of the stage to single figures at altitude.

Tomorrow (Thursday), the Dakar crosses the frontier into Bolivia and winds its way at energy-sapping heights to the remote mining settlement of Tupiza in the Potosi Department. The route includes a merciless special stage of 416km in a route of 521km and even features dune crossings at altitude.

What they said

NASSER SALEH AL-ATTIYAH – Car 301

“Game over…a bad day. It was bad luck. We hit the other side on a big stone and we broke the wheel completely. We decided to use some rocks and the wheel to make up the balance, but we had to drive 80km like this. We stopped to repair, but we couldn’t. We don’t have all the parts. The T4 was still very far away, but we decided to continue to the finish. It was a mistake, but a mistake is a mistake. It’s bad luck, but this is the race, this is how the Dakar us. We were doing a really good job, we were leading. I don’t think the goal is even to finish.”