Two days of high drama in the 2018 Dakar Rally saw Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa (TGRSA) take the second and third spots in the marathon South American race.
The race was won by Peugeot’s Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz, with TGRSA’s Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel in second place, and team mates Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz in third place.
The third TGRSA Hilux, driven by Bernhard ten Brinke and Michel Périn, was forced to retire in the penultimate stage (stage 13) of the 2018 race, following an engine problem.
They were in fourth place overall at the end of Stage 12.
De Villiers is the only South African among the six TGRSA drivers, although all the racing vehicles were built in South Africa.
A crash by second-placed Stephane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret (Peugeot) in Stage 13 – costing the pair 57 minutes – allowed Al Attiyah/Baumel and De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz to move up one position in the general rankings, poised to take two of the three spots available on the Dakar 2018 podium.
The final stage, Stage 14, required Sainz only to keep his vehicle on the road for 120 km to clinch his second Dakar victory. Al-Attiyah trailed Sainz by 46 minutes, with De Villiers a further 34 minutes behind.
The presence of the recovered Peterhansel behind the South African posed a significant threat, though, with the Frenchman only eight, minutes back at the start of the final stage.
However, De Villiers took overall victory in the final stage, 40 seconds ahead of Peterhansel, to ensure that second and third place belonged to TGRSA.
“We always knew that Stephane was going to push in the last stage, but making up eight minutes on such a fast World Rally Championship-style stage isn’t easy,” said an elated De Villiers at the end of the final stage, near Villa Carlos Paz, in Argentina. “At the same time, we had to make sure we made no mistakes, as one slip could cost us the podium.”
“For us, Dakar 2018 was extremely tough,” added Qatar’s Al Attiyah. “But we are very happy to finish in second place overall. Of course, we would have been happier with a win, but to have two of our three cars on the podium is an amazing achievement and we have every reason to be proud.”
Dakar 2018 stretched across three countries, 14 stages and more than 7 000 km. The race started in the Peruvian capital of Lima on January 6 and ended in Argentina on January 20.
Another Dakar 2018 highlight for South Africa was Dakar debutants Hennie de Klerk and Gerhard Schutte taking top honours in the rookie rankings in their TreasuryOne Amarok.
A former track racer, De Klerk last year built the TreasuryOne Amarok. The Ford V8-powered machine was conceived with one mission in mind – to finish the Dakar.
In June last year, De Klerk won the Dakar Challenge award in the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, in Botswana, a prize which covered the Dakar entry fee and the cost to get the Amarok to and from South America to compete.