After the elation of taking over the lead of the Dakar Series: China Rally yesterday, Stage 6 of the grueling event brought bitter disappointment for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA. Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz were forced to retire their Toyota Hilux, after hitting an embedded rock on the blind side of a dune. The impact damaged the suspension, bringing an end to their charge at the head of the field.
The crew made good time through the first part of the event’s penultimate stage, catching up with Wei Han (SMG Buggy) who had started first on the road. Having started the day in the overall lead of the event, everything was going to plan, and a victory in China was looking more likely with each passing kilometre of the 328 km-long stage. But it wasn’t to be.
“It really is such a pity, especially after the great day we had yesterday,” said De Villiers from the Mongolian desert. “It wasn’t a high-speed impact – we were crossing the dune in second gear when things went wrong. I would’ve expected that rock to be marked in the roadbook, but there was no warning.”
The #111 Toyota Hilux wasn’t the only vehicle to fall prey to the lurking rock. At least four other vehicles were also forced to retire after impacting the same rock, including Han, who would’ve inherited the lead from De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz, had he escaped unscathed.
“It has turned the race on its head,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, after recovering the team’s Toyota Hilux. “Most of the leaders have been forced to retire, and it is disappointing to see a very close race disintegrate due to one rock.”
Despite not completing the race, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA is extremely positive about the experience in China. The amount of dune driving in China gave De Villiers the opportunity to learn and practice more dune driving than on any other race in the world, and the newly crowned South African Cross-Country champion was upbeat despite the disappointment in China: “We’ve learnt a lot here, and we’re looking forward to carrying this experience over to the Dakar Rally in 2018.”
The Dakar Series: China Rally ends with a short, 28 km-long stage on Saturday, 30th September 2017. The event comprised seven stages, all set in the Mongolian desert near the Chinese town of Axla.