Overdrive Racing and Toyota Gazoo Racing finish gruelling Dakar Rally with podium and three cars in top 10
SALTA (Argentina): Overdrive Racing and Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa emphasised the strength and reliability of the Toyota Hilux by completing the gruelling Dakar Rally with a podium finish, three cars inside the top 10 and seven of their original eight cars at the ceremonial ramp in Rosario on Saturday.
Giniel de Villiers and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz had been the model of consistency on recent Dakar rallies and the Toyota Gazoo South Africa team’s hard work was rewarded with a superb third place after two weeks battling against the elements and treacherous terrain on the world’s most difficult off-road rally.
The duo had been sixth overall at the rest day but, as the temperatures climbed over the final week and the route became tougher – with treacherous sand dunes, fesh-fesh and punishing navigation – De Villiers was in his element.
“At the end of the day we waged all-out war for the podium with Mikko Hirvonen and I pulled out all the stops on the last long stage to make it happen,” said De Villiers. “I’m happy for Toyota and the team to keep the podium spot. The first week was frustrating for me. We were behind, but I’m happy with the reliability of our vehicle, even if it’s difficult to hold your own against turbo engines. Its my 13th Dakar and my fifth podium.”
South African colleagues, Leeroy Poulter and Robert Howie, enjoyed a superb Dakar as well in the second Toyota Gazoo car. They produced numerous impressive stage performances and were rewarded with a career-best fifth overall.
Vladimir Vasilyev and navigator Konstantin Zhiltsov began the second half of the event in ninth overall and maintained a consistent pace through the most demanding of the stages to reach Rosario in eighth in their Overdrive Toyota. The highlight for the former FIA World Cup champion was the third quickest time on the special stage between Belén and La Rioja, where he had been running as the second quickest driver through the early checkpoints.
Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and German navigator Timo Gottschalk were eighth overall at the rest day and survived the punishing second half of the event to reach the finish in 11th. Al-Rajhi was not able to show the form that took him to third place near the finish 12 months ago and a time-consuming crash, that damaged the wheels on his Toyota and cost him three hours between Belén and La Rioja, prevented the Saudi from climbing higher up the final leader board.
Czech WRC star Martin Prokop finished his first ever Dakar Rally in impressive fashion with co-driver Jan Tomanek in an Overdrive Toyota Hilux. Prokop drove in a professional and measured fashion, avoided risks and was rewarded with a 14th-placed finish.
The French pairing of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot enjoyed their first Dakar with Overdrive Racing. They began the second half of the rally in 19th and, despite a few minor setbacks on the way through Argentina, Chabot reached the finish in 22nd.
The Polish former enduro-riding duo of Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor had gearbox problems during the first week and started the second half of the rally in a lowly 66th overall. But the Poles are experienced at the Dakar and, where others hit trouble and fell by the wayside, Dabrowski and Czachor came into their own and climbed back into the top 30. They reached Rosario in 29th place.
Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and Belgian navigator Tom Colsoul lost eighth overall in the eighth car after their Toyota Hllux sustained a flat tyre and the flailing rubber overheated, caught fire and set the car alight near the end of a stage.
“Seven cars from eight at the finish of Dakar, a podium, three cars in the top 10 and four in the top 11 is something we can be very proud of,” said Overdrive CEO Jean-Marc Fortin. “The retirement was an expensive one and it was disappointing for Bernhard because he was setting some quick times and could have made the top five. But our team did a great job and Martin came home 14th on his first Dakar. He made a couple of mistakes, but it was an impressive performance from him.
“It was not a conventional Dakar in terms of the stages and it was much harder for the mechanics than it was for the cars. During the first week we had the rain and the floods and then we had the heat and the sun in week two. The timetable was relentless and very tiring for the team, who all did a great job. There were few proper off-road stages in the dunes, but Vladimir showed that we were close to the Peugeots in the sandy stages.
“I think everyone was surprised by the pace of the Peugeots. They had a strong team, but we were close and had a great fight with the Minis. Maybe there are a few things that the race organisers need to review for the future, but it was a successful Dakar for us and it showed the strength and reliability of the Toyota Hilux.”