Rosario, Sunday – Giniel de Villiers scored his 10th top five placing and Toyota Gazoo Racing SA finished with two cars in the top five when this year’s Dakar, widely accepted as the toughest event in world motorsport, finished here yesterday.
De Villiers and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz finished third behind Stephane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (Peugeot) and Nasser Al-Attiyah/Matthieu Baumel (MINI) after two weeks of racing through Bolivia and Argentina. The Toyota pair were under pressure from Mikko Hirvonen/Michel Perin (MINI) on the 13th and final stage, but held their nerve to secure their second podium finish in a row.
Donaldson Cross Country champions Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie were classified fifth overall with a third Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team in Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk 11th in the final classification. At the halfway mark the Toyota crews were lying sixth, seventh and eighth with Al-Rajhi and Gottschalk falling back when they lost a wheel on the 10th special stage.
For Peterhansel it was his 12th Dakar win on two and four wheels and Peugeot’s first since 1990. However, de Villiers also has an impressive Dakar record and driving for Nissan, Volkswagen and Toyota he has a win in 2009, with von Zitzewitz, and four second places among his 10 top five finishes.
Consistency is the key word where de Villiers and von Zitzewitz are concerned. Since joining the Toyota stable under team principal Glyn Hall in 2012, the former South African Touring Car champion and the German have never finished out of the top five and four of their five starts for Toyota have produced places on the podium.
For Poulter and Howie who dominated last year’s Donaldson Cross Country Championship in South Africa, fifth place was a quantum leap. The South African champions finished 33rd and 16th in 2014 and 2015, and this year came within a whisker of a maiden Dakar stage win on the penultimate day.
“It was fantastic to see all three of our cars make it to the finish,” said Hall, “and to have two of them in the top five is a great achievement. The results proved that the Toyota Hilux can compete at the top end of international motorsport.
“We have every reason to be proud of the car, the crews and the technical team.”
Three other cars with strong South African connections also finished in the top 20 on an event characterised by a mix of high and low temperatures, a sandstorm and heavy rains. After lying 31st overall at the end of the first leg, Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr (Century Racing CR5) went on a charge that lifted them to 17th overall and gave them the overall win in the class for petrol two wheel drive cars.
Right behind the Century Racing crew in 18th and 19th were two Renault Dusters built by Thompson Racing at their facility in Kyalami. Argentinians Emiliano Spataro and Benjamin Lozada lost a little time on the second leg to fall out of the top 10, but Frenchmen Christian Lavieille and Jean-Michel Polato, in an older Duster, kept pace with Corbett and Mohr to move up from 32nd to 19th.
While Corbett and Mohr were on the move, it was tougher going for team-mates Colin Matthews and Rodney Burke, in the second Century Racing CR5. Niggling problems made life difficult for the pair on the second leg, and they dropped a place to finally finish 37th overall and third in the two wheel drive petrol class.
A little further back there were mixed fortunes for the Regent Racing Nissan Navara team. Dakar rookies Sean Reitz and Riaan Greyling finished 36th overall, but the team lost the second car when the German father and son crew of Jurgen and Daniel Schroeder rolled on the penultimate stage.
Until three years ago Reitz had never sat in a race car, but the crew stuck to their guns through some difficult times. For the Schroeders, however, rolling out of the event provided the sting in the tail that was a cruel blow for the Regent Racing squad.
“Once again South African crews, car builders and technical crew have come up trumps on an iconic event,” said SANORA chief executive officer Siegfried Rousseau. “It is more proof, if that were needed, of the high standards and professionalism that abound in cross country motor racing in this country.
“We can be proud of the South African connection at Dakar this year, and their performances have set the tone for when the Donaldson Cross Country Championship gets underway later this year.”