South Africa off to a cracking start in Dakar

Toyota's driver Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel of France compete during Stage 1 of the Dakar 2019 between Lima and Pisco, Peru, on January 7, 2019. - Toyota's driver Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel of France won the stage. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

Toyota's driver Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel of France compete during Stage 1 of the Dakar 2019 between Lima and Pisco, Peru, on January 7, 2019. - Toyota's driver Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel of France won the stage. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

The local team’s dynamic duo of Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel set the pace with veteran Giniel de Villiers again performing solidly.

It was a fantastic start to Dakar 2019, when Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s three-Toyota Hilux team tackled the opening stage of the race on Monday.

Former race winners Nasser Al Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel set the pace from the start, winning the opening stage by just shy of two minutes over last year’s winner, Carlos Sainz (MINI).

The pair, who also won the Rally of Morocco late in 2018, were simply superb in the dunes, and quickly caught up with Sainz.

They elected to remain behind him, however, as the gains to be made weren’t worth the risk at this early stage.

“Nasser and Mathieu did exactly what was required of them,” said an ecstatic Glyn Hall, Team Principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing SA from Pisco.

“There’s always the temptation to throw caution to the wind, but Nasser is an old hand and knows what it takes to win not only stages, but the race overall.”

Al Attiyah/Baumel represents the spearhead of the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA charge, with Giniel de Villiers / Dirk von Zitzewitz completing the stage 02:40 behind their teammates, setting the sixth-fastest time in the process.

“We decided to go at a good pace, rather than push too hard on the opening stage,” said De Villiers after completing the 84 km-long test.

“There’s very little time to be made on such a relatively short stage, but even a small mistake can put you on the back foot for the remainder of the race.”

Dutch star Bernhard ten Brinke, partnered with French navigator Xavier Panseri, had much the same outlook. The pair set the eighth-fastest time, just over three minutes behind Al Attiyah/Baumel.

All three crews reported flawless performances by the Toyota Hilux, and were extremely positive about the suspension setup.

With that said, the team completed a final test on De Villiers’s car during the stage, and will now apply the results for the rest of the race.

“We are really pleased with our performance today,” said Hall. “All three crews did exactly what we had planned, and I think the team is full of positive energy at this point. We have every reason to be upbeat, and we are looking forward to Tuesday’s long stage.”

Stage 2 is 342 km in length, and as with the opening stage, will be run mainly on massive sand dunes. This offers a stern navigational challenge for the co-pilots, while also testing the cars and drivers to their limits.

Dakar 2019 comprises 10 stages, with a rest day at the midpoint. Stage 2 will see the crews start in the coastal town of Pisco, before heading southwards to San Juan de Marcona. The race will finish on January 17 in the Peruvian capital of Lima.

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