SA’s Toyota Gazoo on the cusp of fine Dakar victory

Toyota's driver Giniel De Villiers of South Africa and co-driver Dirk Von Zitzewitz of Germany compete during the Stage 6 of the Dakar Rally between Arequipa and San Juan de Marcona, Peru, on January 13, 2019. (Photo by Franck FIFE / AFP)

Toyota's driver Giniel De Villiers of South Africa and co-driver Dirk Von Zitzewitz of Germany compete during the Stage 6 of the Dakar Rally between Arequipa and San Juan de Marcona, Peru, on January 13, 2019. (Photo by Franck FIFE / AFP)

Giniel de Villiers does his part to support Nasser Al Attiyah but hopes the Qatari ‘doesn’t need it’ for the final stage.

Toyota Racing SA’s Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel extended their overall Dakar Rally lead to 49min 29sec despite finishing second in after Stage 8 on Tuesday.

It was a nail-biting affair when the crews tackled the 360km-long test that saw the rally leave behind the fabled lines of Nazca and return to the coastal town of Pisco.

For Attiyah (Qatar) and navigator Baumel (France), the stage was another big hurdle to clear, in their quest to win the race for Toyota in their South African-built Hilux.

Al Attiyah, a former two-time winner of the Dakar, set about the stage with surgical precision. They started the day as the fourth car on the road, even though the stage kicked off with a mixed bag of cars, trucks and motorcycles.

This put the Toyota Hilux crew in a strong road position and allowed the Qatari to push on through some of the toughest dunes experienced on this year’s race.

“We are really happy with our performance today,” said Al Attiyah after bringing the Toyota Hilux home to the bivouac at Pisco.

“It was tough out there, but the car was absolutely perfect, and we didn’t make any serious mistakes. The team did an amazing job to prepare the car for us, and we hope to repay them by bringing home the big trophy.”

Their solid drive saw Al Attiyah / Baumel net the second-fastest time on the day, just 07:27 behind the hard-charging Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot), who had fallen behind in the overall standings but showed his class by conquering Stage 8.

Third on the stage was MINI’s Jakub Przygonski, who finished eight minutes behind Al Attiyah.

The pressure on Al Attiyah / Baumel eased slightly when “Mr Dakar”, Stephane Peterhansel, lost 24 minutes on Stage 5 after getting stuck in big dunes mid-way through the stage.

This allowed the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew to extend their lead at the top of the standings to 46:29 over MINI’s Nani Roma.

At the same time, Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz showed their class by posting the 4th-fastest time on Stage 8, just 15 minutes behind Loeb and eight minutes behind teammates Al Attiyah / Baumel.

“We had a really good, clean stage today,” said De Villiers from Pisco. “As always on the Dakar, there were some small issues, but overall, we are really pleased with today’s performance.

“I must say that I think today was the toughest stage so far on Dakar 2019, even after yesterday’s monster stage. But our performance today puts us in an ideal road position to support Nasser to the finish – though we really hope he doesn’t need us.”

From the highs to the lows, as Dutch star Bernhard ten Brinke and French navigator Xavier Panseri suffered a terminal gearbox failure near the end of the first section of Stage 8.

The pair posted the 5th-fastest time at the second waypoint of the day, but then they lost significant time before the end of the section, ultimately being forced into retirement.

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