It is, without any doubt, the world’s toughest motor race. Competed over more than 9,000 km, across three South-American countries, the 2015 edition of the legendary Dakar Rally saw competitors from across the planet take part on motorcycles, quad bikes, in trucks and purpose-built race cars. This year an intrepid South African team counted amongst the competitors for the fourth time, and despite facing off against some of the giants in the automotive world, the Toyota Imperial South African Dakar Team came back carrying a trophy.
It was a trophy hard earned on the fast rally tracks of Argentina, massive dunes of the Atacama in Chile, and high plains of Bolivia. The Toyota Imperial SA Dakar Team had been more prepared than ever before, heading into the 2015 Dakar, but questions remained about the high altitude performance of the naturally aspirated V8 engine in the Toyota Imperial Hilux versus that of the turbo-diesel machines fielded by some of the other teams. However, the team from South Africa prevailed and proven Hilux toughness beyond any doubt; nipping at the heels of the eventual winner Nasser Al-Attiyah through the mammoth race and scooping a podium position (second) overall.
“Were it not for a navigational gamble that didn’t pay off the way we wanted, we may well have brought home a different trophy. But we are extremely proud of what we achieved – a second position in arguably the world’s toughest race,” said Team Principal Glyn Hall. When the dust finally settled over the final stage of Dakar 2015, it was Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah who took the win – just 35:34 ahead of the Toyota Imperial team’s Giniel De Villiers and German navigator, Dirk Von Zitzewitz who claimed their second second-place finish for the team. “We drove a great race this year, and the Toyota Imperial Hilux never let us down. But Nasser is a very experienced and fast competitor, and catching him is never easy – never mind what you’re driving,” said an ecstatic De Villiers after completing the podium formalities in Buenos Aires.
De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz (#303) were in a position to challenge for the lead early in the race, but their navigational gamble, together with moments of pure bad luck, saw them losing ground over Al-Attiyah, rather than making it up. “In the end the Dakar simply isn’t an easy race to win. There are a lot of teams trying. Yet here we stand, holding the trophy for second place,” continued Hall. Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie in the second Toyota Imperial Hilux (#327) showed exceptional pace throughout the race, but a broken suspension part cost them significant time early on.
They also missed one waypoint during the event, and were docked 40 minutes for the transgression. As a result they finished in sixteenth position overall, but they were on course to win the final stage of the event. Sadly the organisers halted Stage 13 – between Rosario and Buenos Aires – after just one waypoint, due to flooding on the route. This meant that American Robby Gordon, who was leading at the time of the cancellation, was awarded the stage win, with Poulter/Howie posting a time just 25 seconds off his pace.
“We had a good race, and learnt a lot this year. This isn’t a race you come and win on your debut, and not on your second year either. It takes time to understand the workings of the Dakar, but I really feel that we’ve grown a lot this year,” explained Poulter after completing the liaison to the Argentine capital. Beyond the two Toyota Imperial Hiluxes, Saudi privateer Yazeed Alrahji performed extremely well in an identical machine to those fielded by De Villiers and Poulter. Only an electronic problem halted the talented driver, who was clearly headed for a podium finish in his first ever Dakar.
“We are very proud of what Yazeed achieved on Dakar 2015. His experience in the World Rally Championship was a great help, and it was a pity to see him forced to stop just three stages from the end of the race. Compare this to the Toyota Imperial Dakar Team’s first attempt in 2012, when we attained third place overall and it is clear that we’ve been doing it right. In the end we went to Dakar this year to win it, but if anyone had offered me a second place before we started, I would probably have taken it with a smile,” said Hall. For Toyota SA Motors it is a point of pride that a South African team took on the giants of the Dakar and came away with a podium finish. It is a great result, not only for the company and its Dakar sponsors, but for the country as a whole.