It was a solid start for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA on the 2018 Qatar Cross-Country Rally, as pre-race favourites Nasser Al Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux) set the fastest time on the short, sharp opening stage of the event.
Teammates Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Robert Howie went second-fastest, trailing the leaders by only 5.7s.
Despite the stage measuring only 4.5 km in length, however, it proved to be a surprisingly tough opener to the 5-day race.
“Both Nasser and Giniel did what we expected of them,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, after the cars returned to the bivouac at the Losail International Race Circuit, north of the Qatari capital of Doha.
“One of the other Toyota Hilux drivers, however, fell foul to a ditch after running through a high-speed mud splash – so it certainly wasn’t easy.”
The driver in question, Dutchman Erik van Loon, failed to complete the Stage, and suffered a 1-hour penalty as a result.
As for the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crews, their first and second place finishes on the opening stage gave them the luxury of choosing their starting positions for Stage 2.
And at 350 km in length, this is the first real test of the event, where road position can be critical.
De Villiers opted to start Stage 2 as the 4th car on the road, with Al Attiyah pegging 8th place.
At the same time, the co-drivers are under immense pressure on this race, due to a new navigational system that allows them significantly less time to prepare for the upcoming stages.
“The co-drivers have been preparing for Stage 2 already, but with no road book to go through, and no detailed satellite imagery, it is going to be interesting to see how things unfold,” concluded Hall.
“The Qatar Cross-Country Rally has always been a tough event, and these new systems make it even tougher. But the rules are the same for everyone, and we’re excited about the new dimension that the changes bring to the sport as a whole.”
Stage 2 will see the crews start and finish near the Losail International Race Circuit, with a total of only 140 km of liaisons to cover.
The race route comprises 350.56 km of rocky tracks, combined with a sea of dunes. Three more long stages will follow, and the 2018 Qatar Cross-Country Rally concludes on Sunday, 22 April, in the Qatari capital of Doha.
Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa Acknowledges Its Sponsors and Specialist Official Suppliers and Technical Partners
Toyota enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Total, Toyota Financial Services and the Innovation Group. Also Hallspeed, Imperial Toyota, SKF, Spanjaard, OMP, NGK, Donaldson, Mastercraft, Edgecam, 3M, Bandit Signs, Shatterprufe, Supreme Springs, Smith’s Manufacturing, TRD, Peritus Forex, 4×4 Mega World, First National Battery, Duxbury Netgear and Plan-C Productions.