SA’s Dakar kingpins: It’s been difficult

Toyota's driver Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar (R) and his co-driver Matthieu Baumel of France compete during the Stage 2 of the Dakar 2019 between Pisco and San Juan de Marcona, Peru, on January 8, 2019. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

Toyota's driver Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar (R) and his co-driver Matthieu Baumel of France compete during the Stage 2 of the Dakar 2019 between Pisco and San Juan de Marcona, Peru, on January 8, 2019. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

The overall lead in the gruelling desert race changes hands again, but not countries.

South African entrants Nasser Al Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA) drove a near-perfect Dakar Rally Stage 3 on Wednesday to post the second-fastest time on the day, and take over the overall lead of the rally.
 
They replace another Toyota Racing SA team of Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz who had an awful day, hitting a rock and losing their overall lead.
 
The third SA entrants Bernhard ten Brinke and Xavier Panseri were seventh on Stage 3.
 
Al Attiyah and Baumel finished the 331km-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 460km 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 De Villiers and navigator Von Zitzewitz. The pair set good times early in the stage, but disaster stuck near the 172km-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 and Von Zitzewitz were not the only crew to lose time today. 
 
Wednesday’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 Ten Brinke and navigator 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 Thursday’s marathon stage.”

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