|The Dakar Rally is known for the twists and turns it dishes up every year, and Stage 3 of the 2019 event delivered its fair share. On the positive side, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Nasser Al Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel drove a near-perfect stage to post the second-fastest time on the day, and take over the overall lead of the rally.
Al Attiyah / Baumel finished the 331 km-long stage just 03:26 behind winners MINI’s Stephane Peterhansel and navigator David Castera, who completed the dune-laden test in 03:54:31. It was a stunning performance by the Qatari master, and clearly showed the power of the Toyota Hilux in the thick Peruvian sand.
“The stage today was extremely difficult,” said Al Attiyah after reaching the bivouac in the Peruvian town of Arequipa, some 460 km from the finish of the stage. “We crossed many big dunes, and in my experience, this was one of the toughest stages I’ve seen on the Dakar.”
The stage certainly proved to be a tough one for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz. The pair set good times early in the stage, but disaster stuck near the 172 km-mark when they hit a rock (hidden in loose sand). The impact destroyed the sump guard of the Toyota Hilux, and cracked the sump. As a result, they lost all oil pressure, and were forced to stop in order to save the engine.
“We knew that we’d had a big hit,” said De Villiers after finally making it to the bivouac in Arequipa. “So, we kept a close eye on all the systems, and it wasn’t long before we knew we were in trouble. We stopped and tried to affect our own repairs, but in the end, we had to wait for assistance.”
The result was a time loss of four-and-a-half hours, which was bitterly disappointing given the strong start De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz had had during the opening stages. De Villiers Von Zitzewitz wasn’t the only crew to lose time today. Yesterday’s stage winner, Sebastien Loeb and navigator Daniel Elena (Peugeot) were the first car into the stage, and managed only the 11th-fastest time on the day. Last year’s winners, Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz (MINI) lost even more time after damaging the front wheel of their car.
“For now, all we can do is to keep racing,” said De Villiers. “Yes, we’ve lost a ton of time, but the Dakar is never over until it’s over. We’ll keep pushing and supporting our teammates.”
This includes Bernhard ten Brinke and navigator Xavier Panseri, who took to the stage as the third car on the road. Running so close to the front made navigation tricky, costing the Dutchman and his French navigator some time as they got stuck in the same ditch that cost Sainz three hours. Despite this, they had a clean run and set the 7th-fastest time on Stage 3. This represents a time loss of 31:45 to Peterhansel, but at the same time puts them in 7th in the overall standings, just 25:21 off the lead.
“It was a day of mixed results for us,” said Glyn Hall, the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, after the stage. “Of course, we are extremely disappointed with the time that Giniel and Dirk lost, but we are also very pleased with Nasser and Mathieu’s performance. Bernhard and Xavier did a great job today, and are well-placed for tomorrow’s marathon stage.”
The marathon stage is one of the Dakar Rally’s biggest challenges, as crews have to complete the stage – and return via the next stage – without any support from their technical crews. This means that all spares and equipment needed to repair and service the cars need to be taken along on the first part of the Marathon, and only the driver and navigator are allowed to work on their car.
“I usually get grey hair during the marathon stages,” continued Hall. “And I’m sure this year will be no exception. Our Toyota Hilux has a great reputation for reliability, but you can never be certain that all will go well.”
This year’s marathon stages are Stages 4 and 5, which will see the crews race off to the southern Peruvian town of Tacna on Thursday, January 10th, before returning to Arequipa the following day – for a well-deserved day off.
Stage 4 is 351 km in length, and will again comprise mainly sand and dunes, with some rocky river beds in between. Stage 5 will bring the crews back via a 450 km-long stage, and is sure to play a pivotal role in the outcome of the race.
The bivouac at San Juan de Marcona will move southwards to Arequipa for Stage 4. The race will conclude with Stage 10, bringing the crews back to the Peruvian Capital of Lima on January 17th.