Stage 6 of Dakar 2015 took place between the towns of Antofagasta and Iquique, and saw Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzetwitz (#303) post the second-fastest stage time in their Toyota Imperial Hilux. The pair finished just 37 seconds behind the stage winner and overall race leader, Nasser Al-Attiyah (MINI), after 255 km of cross-country racing.
“We pushed quite hard today, and was right on Nasser’s pace,” said De Villiers from the bivouac near Iquique. “The Hilux ran absolutely perfectly and we were clearly just as fast as the MINIs.”
The day also started well for Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie (#327) in the second Toyota Imperial Hilux. The pair posted the 11th and 12th-fastest times past most of the checkpoints on the route, but lost time in the dunes near the end of the stage. They were forced to let some air out of their tyres and as a result they couldn’t push quite as hard as they wanted towards the end.
“There was no problem with our overall pace today,” said Leeroy after the stage. “We were matching the top stage times until things went wrong for us in the dunes. Unfortunately we also missed one waypoint today, which means we get a heavy penalty of forty minutes, plus the time we spent looking for the point. It is a crushing blow, but we will continue to push when we can, and be there to support Giniel and Dirk if needed.”
With the penalty applied, Poulter and Howie drop down to 21st overall, but the pair still has one joker – a possible opportunity to improve their road position – to play. This will be applied for the start of the Stage 7, and if all goes to plan, they will remain in the top group on the road, despite dropping down in the overall standings.
“Of course it is disappointing that Leeroy and Rob have been penalised for missing a waypoint,” said Team Principal Glyn Hall. “But at the same time we are very pleased with Giniel and Dirk’s performance so far. And don’t forget, there’s still a lot of racing to come, starting with the two marathon stages.”
The so-called Marathon Stages require teams to drive away from the bivouac and service crews for one stage, and return on the next – with no service support along the way. Stages 7 and 8 will be run on consecutive days, and the teams will ascend to altitudes of 4,000 m as they battle their way from Iquique to the famous salt flats of Uyuni. After overnighting in Bolivia, they will return to Iquique via a different route, ending back in the seaside town after descending the famous dune behind the bivouac.
“No service crews are allowed on the route,” explained Hall. “So if anything breaks on the cars, only the crews themselves are allowed to fix it. As such we send along a full spares package for each car, which will add some weight, but it’s necessary. We also have a strategy in place to get new tyres onto Giniel and Dirk’s car for the return stage. But it is heart-in-the-throat stuff, as we are powerless to help if anything should happen. Still, the cars haven’t had any significant problems so far, so there is no reason to expect trouble.”
After returning from Bolivia the crews will finally have a breather with the rest day, before racing resumes on January 13th with a final Chilean stage from Iquique to Calama before returning to Argentina for the final days of Dakar 2015.