It was arguably the first opportunity for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA to measure its performance on Dakar 2018. The opening stage was too short, with lots of strategy at play; while Stage 2 saw Nasser Al Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel open the road, with the French navigator falling ill mid-stage. Bernhard ten Brinke/Michel Périn followed hot on the heels of their teammates, but only Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz were in a position to attack.
Stage 3, however, saw Al Attiyah starting in 7th place and the Qatari superstar quickly pounced. Together with Baumel, the pair attacked right from the start, pushing hard and making up time throughout the 296 km-long special stage. With that said, their blitzkrieg was hampered by two punctures, which cost them the best part of three minutes mid-stage.
“If it weren’t for the punctures, we would’ve been in an even stronger position,” said Al Attiyah from the bivouac at San Juan de Marcona. “But even so we are happy with today’s result, and we are now right back in the fight.”
Al Attiyah/Baumel completed Stage 3 04:05 ahead of Peugeot’s Stephane Peterhansel. Carlos Sainz (Peugeot) was third-fastest, and he was followed home by Cyril Despres and Sebastien Loeb, both also driving Peugeots.
De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz posted the sixth-fastest time in their Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux, trailing the stage winners by 10:11.
“We had a strong start, and quickly caught up with Sebastien Loeb, who started three minutes ahead of us. This clearly showed that we had some pace, but Loeb’s dust made it tricky for us,” said De Villiers after finishing the stage. “In the end, there were some tricky spots, and we decided to back off a bit in the dust. Maybe we were too cautious, but we’re still very much in touch with the race, and there’s a lot of racing to come.”
Further back, Dutch driver Ten Brinke, paired with French navigator Périn, had a solid day in the dunes, though they also suffered two punctures.
“The Toyota Hilux performed extremely well in the sand,” said Ten Brinke from the bivouac. “But the reality is that we had no confidence in the roadbook, and couldn’t push as hard as we had wanted to.”
Ten Brinke/Périn finished the day with the 7th-fastest time on the stage, 8 minutes behind teammates De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz. In the overall standings, Peugeot’s Peterhansel still leads by 03:11 over his teammate Despres. Al Attiyah had leapfrogged into third place, 07:43 behind the leader. De Villiers dropped into 5th in the standings, but is only 01:12 behind Peugeot’s Loeb in 4th place. Ten Brinke is in 7th, 31:18 off the lead.
“Two stage wins in the first three stages sound like a fairy tale to me,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, after all three Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crews made it safely to the bivouac. “With that said, we could have been in a better position, were it not for Mathieu falling ill, and two of our crews suffering multiple punctures. But then the Dakar isn’t a race of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ – it is a grueling event where every second won is ground out the hard way. We simply have to keep pushing as hard as we can, and today we saw that we certainly have the pace to take the fight to the competition.”
The Dakar bit hard over its opening stages, with American driver Bryce Menzies crashing out in his Mini; former Toyota Gazoo Racing SA driver Yazeed Al Rahji losing time after a mid-stage crash with another competitor; and Nani Roma rolling his Mini near the end of Stage 3. Toyota Hilux driver Lucio Alvarez, with South African navigator Rob Howie beside him, also suffered a roll on Stage 2, but posted the 10th-fastest time on Stage 3.
Stage 4 is another looped stage, with the competitors returning to the bivouac at San Juan de Marcona after the stage. It features a novel start with four cars at a time lining up next to each other on the beach. When the flag drops, a mad dash for the first corner – nearly 40 km down the beach – will ensue, making for very exciting viewing.
The stage is 330 km in length, with a 114 km-liaison to the start. Some 57% of the route will take place on soft sand; 20% on dirt tracks; and the balance taking place over really rough and rocky terrain.
STAGE 3 RESULTS:
1 N. Al Attiyah (TOYOTA)
2 S. Peterhansel (Peugeot) +04:05
3 C. Sainz (Peugeot) +06:07
4 C. Despres (Peugeot) +07:43
5 S. Loeb (Peugeot) +08:34
6 G. De Villiers (TOYOTA) +10:11
7 B. Ten Brinke (TOYOTA) +18:07
8 M. Prokop (Ford) +18:56
9 J. Przygonski (Mini) +22:42
10 L. Alvarez (TOYOTA) +23:01
OVERALL STANDINGS AFTER STAGE 3:
1 S. Peterhansel (Peugeot) 06:34:58
2 C. Despreas (Peugeot) +03:11
3 N. Al Attiyah (TOYOTA) +07:43
4 S. Loeb (Peugeot) +10:11
5 G. De Villiers (TOYOTA) +11:23
6 C. Sainz (Peugeot) +14:47
7 B. Ten Brinke (TOYOTA) +31:18
8 O. Terranova (Mini) +35:19
9 M. Prokop (Ford) +38:56
10 N. Roma (Mini) +42:56