Toyota Gazoo Racing SA has entered three crews for the 2018 Rally of Morocco, penultimate round of the 2018 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies. The grueling 5-day event will serve not only as an opportunity for the team to test the latest version of its race-proven Toyota Hilux in preparation for the 2019 Dakar Rally, but will also give the two new co-drivers in the team a chance to gel with the drivers.
While Nasser Al Attiyah (Qatar) remains with long-standing co-driver Mathieu Baumel (France), both Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) and Bernhard ten Brinke (Netherlands) will have new co-drivers beside them – both in Morocco, and the Dakar Rally.
De Villiers will be paired with French co-driver Alex Winocq for Morocco; while Ten Brinke will also have a Frenchman doing navigating duty, in the form of Xavier Panseri. Both co-drivers have competed in several Dakars in the past, and bring a wealth of experience to the team.
Morocco also serves as a backdrop for the team’s final preparations for Dakar 2019, with a comprehensive test session in the desert near Erfoud. While the latest iteration of the Toyota Hilux has already clocked up significant test mileage during the South African Cross-Country Series (SACCS) in the hands of Giniel de Villiers and Henk Lategan, the Moroccan test offered the first opportunity for Al Attiyah and Ten Brinke to sample the car.
“Our goal with the test in Morocco was to run some final tests on a number of components; test suspension setups for the Dakar Rally; and lock in the final details for each individual crew,” explained Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, from the start location of the Rally of Morocco, the town of Fes. “The terrain here in Morocco is very similar to what we expect in Peru early next year, so testing here is invaluable to our Dakar campaign.”
With that said, the team isn’t only in Morocco for testing purposes: There’s also the issue of a grueling race to compete in, and this year’s Rally of Morocco is a completely new animal. The rally has a proud history, dating back to 1982 when the first Paris-Agadir event took place.
In 1983 the race took on the name of Atlas Rally, and attracted some of the biggest names in the sport of rally-raid (cross-country racing as it is known in South Africa) for more than a decade, before petering out at the end of the nineties.
Then came the rebirth of the event in 2000, sporting a new name in the form of the Rally of Morocco. The elite of the rally-raid world again returned to northern Africa, and the organizing company, NPO, managed to maintain the event until it was sold to Emma and Stephane Clair in 2007.
In 2017 the event once more changed hands, as the NPO sold the race to a new company known as ODC, which is headed up by rally-raid legend David Castera. While the race still takes place in Morocco, Castera and his team has ushered in a new era with world-class organisation and many innovations in the route and layout of the race.
“One of the most exciting innovations is that the various categories run different routes each day; or the same route at vastly different times of the day,” explains Hall. “This means that cars don’t have to overtake bikes in dusty conditions or get stuck behind big trucks – both scenarios that sometimes make cross-country racing very tricky.”
The race gets under way with a ceremonial start on Thursday, October 4th in the central Moroccan town of Fes, where the event also finishes on October 9th. In between lie 689 km of liaisons and 1,362 km of special stage racing, bringing the total mileage of the Rally of Morocco to 2,051 km.
The three crews representing Toyota Gazoo Racing SA at the Rally of Morocco are:
CO-DRIVER: Alex Winocq (FRA)
CO-DRIVER: Mathieu Baumel (FRA)
CO-DRIVER: Xavier Panseri (FRA)
All three crews will be driving near-identical versions of the Class FIA Toyota Hilux, as campaigned by De Villiers and Lategan in the South African Cross-Country Series, where most of the testing and development also takes place.
The 2018 Rally of Morocco consists of the following:
04 October – Prologue: 10 km (Fes – Fes)
05 October – Stage 1: 103 km & 91 km (Fes – Erfoud)
06 October – Stage 2: 329 km (Erfoud – Erfoud)
07 October – Stage 3: 289 km (Erfoud – Erfoud)
08 October – Stage 4: 342 km (Erfoud – Erfoud)
09 October – Stage 5: 128 km (Erfoud – Fes)
“The Rally of Morocco is a stern test for us, but it also allows us to measure our performance against the latest evolution of the MINI Buggies, which will be in the hands of Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres this week,” concludes Hall.