The Toyota Imperial South Africa Rally Team Toyota Hilux of Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz finished in a fine fourth overall in the punishing 36th Dakar Rally, which finished at the Chilean naval port of Valparaiso on Saturday.
The Polish duo of Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor also enjoyed an excellent Dakar Rally with the Overdrive Racing team and brought their Team Orlen Toyota Hilux to the podium in seventh place.
Polish team-mates Adam Malysz and co-driver Rafal Marton held ninth overall for long periods of the 13-stage rally before losing time in the Atacama Desert. They reached the podium in 13th overall.
Kazakh driver Aidyn Rakhimbayev and Russian navigator Vladimir Demyanenko finished 17th in the Team Astana car and the South African pairing of Leeroy Poulter and Robert Howie were 33rd overall in the second of the Toyota Imperial South Africa Hiluxes.
“This was a long and challenging Dakar Rally and we are delighted to have two Toyotas in the top 10 and to finish the race with the fastest time for Giniel today,” said Overdrive team director Jean-Marc Fortin. “We started last week by losing three cars early on, but everyone else has managed to reach the finish and we could so easily have had three cars in the top 10 had Adam (Malysz) not lost time near the end.”
De Villiers’s challenge for the outright victory received a boost as he tackled the first stage after the rest day. Rival Orlando Terranova received a 15-minute time penalty for speeding and this promoted the South African to third position. After finishing third in 2012 and second last year, the South African was looking for the top of the podium this time.
But the irate Toyota driver lost valuable time to Terranova on the eighth stage when he was forced to drive in the dust of Russian Vladimir Vasilyev for many kilometres. Two time-consuming flat tyres followed on the ninth stage and De Villiers slipped to fifth place.
The stage between Iquique and Antofagasta through the Atacama desert saw the South African set the fourth quickest time and he moved up a position in the overall classification, but a further three punctures dropped him back to fifth into El Salvador. Late stage drama for Terranova on the 12th stage promoted De Villiers back to fourth and the South African reached the finish in fourth position – over 28 minutes ahead of his Argentinean rival – after setting the fastest time in the last stage.
“It was great to win the last stage, but I am a bit disappointed not to be on the podium,” said De Villiers. “But, we weren’t quite as good at high attitude this year and, to make matters worse, we lost too much time at the beginning due to problems with our power steering. In a race as difficult as this, it’s impossible to claw back the time lost at the beginning. We’ll go back to South Africa and work on boosting our machine’s performance even more and do better next year.”
Dabrowski left the Salta rest day in seventh overall and was determined to try and keep his position in the top 10, even though the forthcoming dunes made him a little anxious. The Pole dropped 25 minutes to the leaders on the stage between Salta and Calama and slipped to eighth overall, but he returned to seventh on the next stage when Carlos Sainz hit trouble.
The Team Orlen driver retained seventh on the run through the Atacama Desert on stages 10, 11, and 12 and reached the podium in a similar position.
“The goal before the start of this rally was to be in the top 25,” said Dabrowski modestly. “But, at the rest day, we found ourselves in seventh position and that was unbelievable. I just wanted to take every day as it came after that and try and stay around the top 10 because I was a little nervous of the Atacama and the big dunes. It is so different to drive the dunes in a car than with the bike, because you just have the view from the windscreen and it is tricky.”
Malysz began the second half of the rally from ninth position in Salta after surviving a light roll during the first week, but the former ski jump world champion slipped to 11th on the Salta loop stage. He climbed a place on the first special in Chile into Calama and an excellent sixth fastest time consolidated his 10th overall on stage nine.
The Pole climbed back to ninth when Sainz retired on the next stage, but time-consuming delays cost him four hours on the special between Antofagasta and El Salvador and the 46th quickest time cost the Overdrive Toyota driver four places in the overall standings. He maintained 13th into La Serena and on to Valparaiso.
Rakhimbayev began the Salta loop stage after the rest day in 13th overall and retained his place through the next two stages, before slipping a position on the ninth special. The Russian climbed back to 11th into Antofagasta but, like Malysz, he suffered big delays in the dunes on stage 11 and the loss of five hours pushed him down from 11th to 18th. Heb climbed a place on the final stage to finish 17th.
Poulter started the rally well and even set a third quickest time during the first half of the rally. He left Salta in 29th overall, but began to struggle a little as the event progressed. The South African dropped to 32nd on stage nine and was running in 34th overall into El Salvador, before climbing back to 33rd in La Serena, a position he maintained to the finish.
One hundred and forty-seven cars had taken the start of the world’s most famous off-road rally on January 4th in Rosario and a mere 62 reached the finish in Valparaiso.
The Russian pairing of Leonid Ogorodnikov and Anton Nikolaev retired their Overdrive Toyota Hilux before the third stage and the Kazakh duo of Bauyrzhan Issabayev and Gabdulla Ashimov also fell foul of the second special stage after their Team Astana car was completely destroyed in a serious fire.
Dutchman Peter van Merksteijn Snr. and Belgian navigator Eddy Chevallier failed to start the third special in their Overdrive Toyota after stage two problems.