For seven long years Toyota had fought bravely to win the Dakar Rally, only to play second fiddle to first Mini and then Peugeot, having only a host of second and third places to show for their efforts.
But Gazoo Racing South Africa Team Principle Glyn Hall had just about enough of choking in others’ fumes as he set out his goals for the 2019 edition.
“We’re missing a first place and there’s big pressure to finish first,” Hall boldly declared to The Citizen during testing outside Bloemfontein in October.
Staying true to his word, an elated Hall last Thursday finally had the chance to celebrate on the bonnet of his winning crew, Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Frenchman Mathieu Baumel’s Hilux, after they beat Mini’s Nano Roma and Alex Haro Bravo by a resounding 46:42 minutes.
The win made them the first South African team to win an overall category in the Dakar and also the first petrol-powered car to win the race since its move to South America in 2009.
“This is the one spot we needed,” said Hall after the dust had settled over the 41st edition of the Dakar.
“And it feels amazing to finally win. “Winning the Dakar is never easy – there are a lot of people trying. This year’s race was no exception, and brought a rollercoaster of emotions and results for the team.”
Al Attiyah’s victory at Dakar 2019 means that Toyota Gazoo Racing has now won both of the world’s toughest automotive races – the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Dakar Rally.
But the South African outfit’s gun-to-tape win in Peru was anything but easy.
Ahead in the overall standings after the first two stage, Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz suffered a cruel blow when a rock tore open the oil sump of their 5-litre V8 Hilux on the third stage, reducing them to a supporting role for the team-mates.
A similar fate befell the team’s third crew, Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke and his French navigator, Xavier Panseri just one day later.
They were forced to retire five stages later due to transmission failure, which left De Villiers as Al-Attiyah’s sole supporting crew.
De Villiers excelled in his role as the ultimate team man, even sacrificing a place in the overall standings to see Al-Attiyah home on the tenth and final stage.
“Obviously we came here to try to win the race,” said De Villiers, who recorded a ninth place in the end.
“But once that dream ended, we were happy to support Nasser and Mathieu’s effort.
If we couldn’t win it ourselves, the next best thing was for one of our team-mates to take the victory, and I am overjoyed at the final result.
“The team decided that Dirk and I needed to wait for Nasser and Mathieu. So, we started the stage, but then pulled over and waited in the dunes (for 55 CHAMPIONS. Toyota Gazoo’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel reach the finish of the Dakar Rally to a rousing reception in Lima, Peru last week. Picture: Supplied minutes),” explained De Villiers.
“Luckily our crew had packed two deck chairs for us, so we could watch a bit of racing in comfort.” “In a sense it was very comforting to have two water carriers supporting Nasser,” said Hall.
“But even so, I’d have preferred to have had them challenging for overall positions rather than stage wins.”