The first long stage of Dakar 2018 quickly reminded the race crews exactly why this race has the reputation of being the world’s toughest automotive event. At 267 km in length, Stage 2 comprised nothing but dunes – and a stern challenge for both the drivers and their navigators. Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz were the fastest of the Toyota Hilux crews, posting the fourth-fastest time on the day.
“It was really tough out there,” said De Villiers after completing the early-morning stage and moving up to fourth overall. “The dunes can be quite tricky in places, and finding your way really is a challenge in these conditions.”
With that said, the man from Stellenbosch certainly showed his class, keeping the Peugeot crews honest in the process. Even so, the three cars ahead of the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux were all Peugeots, clearly showing that there is plenty of fight in the French team. Former motorbike winner Cyril Despres posted the winning time on Stage 2, while his teammate Stephane Peterhansel took over the overall lead of the rally.
Further back, two-time winner Nasser Al Attiyah was having a tough time in the dunes of Stage 2. His first challenge came thanks to his victory on the opening stage of the rally, which meant he had to open the road for Stage 2. This made navigation extremely difficult, but his best efforts were hampered by navigator Mathieu Baumel who fell violently ill mid-stage.
“We had to stop twice for Mathieu,” said the Qatari after reaching the bivouac near Pisco. “But hopefully he will be ready for tomorrow’s stage. All we can do at the moment is to take it one day at a time.”
Al Attiyah and Baumel lost 14:51 to Depres on Stage 2, and are now in 7th place overall, 06:43 behind leader Peterhansel.
Bernhard ten Brinke and navigator Michel Périn, in the third of the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux race cars, had a clean run today, though starting the stage in second position brought a massive navigational challenge.
“This is the first time that Michel and I are racing together, so we’re still finding our feet a little,” said the Dutch driver after the stage. “Even so, we were going very well today, until we got stuck on top of a dune. We lost some time there, but then got back into the fight. Finishing the day in 9th place overall isn’t ideal, but it is early days and we’ll see how the race develops.”
For Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal Glyn Hall, Stage 2 brought both highs and lows: “Early in the stage, it was clear that the Peugeots were looking strong, and I was feeling a bit concerned. But then Giniel and Dirk came through, and by the end of the stage, initial reports suggested that we had won the stage. This turned out to be exaggerated, but even so, it was an exciting day of racing.”
This sentiment probably won’t be shared by South African navigator Rob Howie, former navigator to Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Leeroy Poulter. Howie is paired with Argentine driver Lucio Alvarez in a Toyota Hilux, and the pair started the race in fine form. However, a roll in Stage 2 brought an end to their challenge, and even though both crew members are unharmed, it is a disappointing end to their challenge.
Stage 3 will see the Dakar relocate to the Peruvian city of San Juan de Marcona, some 266 km to the south. The stage itself is 296 km in length, and offers a mix of dune driving and dirt tracks. Dakar 2018 comprises 14 racing stages, with a rest day in the Bolivian capital of La Paz on January 12th. The event ends on January 20th, in Argentina’s second city of Cordoba.
OVERALL POSITIONS AFTER STAGE 2:
1 S. Peterhansel 02:49:39 (Peugeot)
2 C. Despres +00:14 (Peugeot)
3 S. Loeb +04:02 (Peugeot)
4 G. De Villiers +05:06 (TOYOTA)
5 C. Sainz +05:35 (Peugeot)
6 O. Terranova +05:57 (Mini)
7 N. Al Attiyah +06:43 (TOYOTA)
8 M. Prokop +09:02 (TOYOTA)
9 B. Ten Brinke +11:18 (TOYOTA)
10 M. Hirvonen +12:15 (Mini)