Toyota reaches Dakar rest day in La Paz with six of the eight Toyota Hiluxes in hunt for honours


LA PAZ (BOLIVIA) – Sunday, January 8: Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa and Overdrive Racing reached the traditional rest day at the halfway point of the 2017 Dakar Rally in La Paz with six of their eight Toyota Hiluxes still very much in the hunt for a finish in Buenos Aires on January 14.

The first half of the event through Paraguay, northern Argentina and southern Bolivia had been one of the most unpredictable on record and had accounted for Toyota’s early race leader Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Frenchman Ronan Chabot.

But Overdrive Racing’s Joan Roma was well placed in fourth overall to challenge for the outright victory over the remaining six stages before the finish festivities in the Argentine capital. With 22 Dakars behind him, Roma has the experience necessary to assess the current situation and plan his strategy to challenge for the win. The 2014 winner is receiving valuable support from Monster Energy, Power Electronics and Air Europa for his Dakar challenge.

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Giniel de Villiers had endured a fraught few days by his exacting standards and the South African reached the rest halt in La Paz in eighth position and needing to pull out all the stops over the remaining specials if he is to continue his remarkable run of podium finishes.

Former WRC star Conrad Rautenbach has been particularly impressive on his Dakar debut in a South African-built Toyota Hilux with co-driver Robert Howie. Despite intense heat and choking dust in Argentina and torrential rain, mud and appalling stage conditions at altitude in Bolivia, the Zimbabwean has carded a sixth quickest time and reached La Paz in 15th position. 

The Dutch crew of Erik van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar lost time during the middle of the first week after holding a top 10 place at the start of the rally. They continue to climb back up the leader board in their Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux and will start the second half of the rally from 19th overall.

Overdrive Racing’s Yacopini and Merlo close in on top 20 at halfway point

Alejandro Yacopini and Daniel Merlo have been on a cautious and consistent pace from the start in their Overdrive Toyota. The Argentineans have stayed out of major trouble , as many of their rivals have fallen by the wayside and are well-placed in 21st overall to challenge hard for a place well inside the top 20 when the rally returns to their native Argentina on Tuesday.

He Zhitao and Kai Zhao have missed several waypoints on the route into Bolivia thanks to GPS issues and incurred time penalties as a result. But the Chinese crew have enjoyed their experience nonetheless and, suitably refreshed by a day’s rest in La Paz, are eager to push on through the second half of the event next week. They hold 50th overall.

The Toyota team’s biggest disappointment came with the retirement of Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel in the leading Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota after the third stage in Argentina. The two-time Dakar winner had dominated the 2016 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies with Overdrive Racing and taken that form into the Dakar.

The Qatari won the opening stage in Paraguay to snatch the outright lead and then ceded that advantage to Frenchman Sébastien Loeb on day two, only to regain the virtual outright lead on the next stage before smashing hard into a large hole and badly damaging his Toyota beyond repair.

The French duo of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot had been just outside the top 10 in their Overdrive Racing Toyota until they stopped with engine issues just short of the crossing from Argentina into Bolivia. They were forced to join Al-Attiyah on the ever-growing list of retirements.

Additional support for Overdrive Racing comes from Power Electronics and Kappa clothing.