Stage 4 of Dakar 2018 will long be remembered as one of the toughest stages ever served up by the world’s toughest automotive race. The 330 km-long stage started some 114 km from the bivouac at San Juan de Marcona, and was run mainly on soft dunes. For Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, the dunes quickly turned into torture.
The leading Toyota Hilux of Nasser Al Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel fell foul to multiple punctures, with the Qatari driver and his French navigator having to stop twice to change tyres. Their woes didn’t stop there, however, as they also got badly stuck on more than one occasion, and lost 54:21 on the day.
“Even so, we still feel that we are part of the fight,” said the irrepressible driver after exiting the stage. “This race is far from over, and we’ll just keep pushing on.”
Teammates Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz have much the same mindset, but will have to dig deep in order to make up for the time lost on Stage 4. The current South African cross-country champion lost 01:13:40 on the stage, pushing him down to eighth in the overall standings.
“It was a similar story to Nasser’s,” explained De Villiers. “Punctures and soft dunes put paid to our attack, but we’re still in the game. And the Hilux never missed a beat, which boosts our confidence in the car.”
Best of the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crews on Stage 4 was Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke, with French navigator Michel Périn beside him. The pair also suffered multiple punctures, but they managed to restrict their time loss to 42:22, on a day dominated by three of the Peugeot crews.
“We were unfortunate to suffer punctures, but that’s to be expected when we race on a mix of surfaces,” said Ten Brinke from the bivouac at San Juan de Marcona. “Without the tyre inflation/deflation system that the buggies use, we always have to compromise on tyre pressures – and that leads to punctures and getting stuck.”
Ten Brinke has moved up into 5th place in the overall standings, 1:10:24 behind Stephane Peterhansel (Peugeot), who leads after four stages. Stage 4 was won by WRC superstar Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot), with teammate Carlos Sainz 01:35 behind him. Peterhansel was third, with Mini’s Miko Hirvonen posting the fourth-fastest time, some 34 minutes behind Loeb.
“Today was a very tough day for us,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “Setting up the cars for a mix of surfaces is always tricky, especially in terms of tyre pressures. If you run them too hard, it is easy to get stuck; go too soft and the tyres tend to come off the rims in tight corners. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of inflating and deflating our tyres on the fly like the buggies do, and today it cost us dearly.”
Despite the setbacks of Stage 4, the team remains optimistic and energized. “All three our cars ran without missing a beat, despite the high heat experienced in the dunes today,” said Hall. “That, together with the tough stages that lie ahead, keep us positive for the remainder of the event. A lot can still happen over the next ten stages.”
Up next is Stage 5, which starts and ends near the city of San Juan de Marcona. The stage comprises 268 km of dune driving, and is followed by a liaison to the bivouac at Arequipa of 666 km. This brings the total distance for the day to 934 km, and the stage is expected to be just as tough as Stage 4. To make things even more challenging, the motorcycles follow a route of their own on Stage 5, which means the cars won’t have any tracks to follow.
Stage 5 is the last full stage in Peru, before the Dakar moves to the high altitudes of Bolivia during Stage 6. The event finishes in the Argentine city of Cordoba on January 20th.
STAGE 4 RESULTS:
1 S. Loeb
2 C. Sainz (Peugeot) +01:35
3 S. Peterhansel (Peugeot) +03:16
4 M. Hirvoinen (Mini) +34:36
5 E. Amos (Buggy) +35:36
6 Sk. Al Qassimi +40:29
7 L. Alvarez (TOYOTA) +41:05
8 B. Ten Brinke (TOYOTA) +42:22
9 Y. Al Rajhi (Mini) +43:05
10 M. Prokop (Ford) +47:04
OVERALL STANDINGS AFTER STAGE 4:
1 S. Peterhansel (Peugeot) 10:36:07
2 S. Loeb (Peugeot) +06:55
3 C. Sainz (Peugeot) +13:06
4 N. Al Attiyah (TOYOTA) +58:48
5 B. Ten Brinke (TOYOTA) +1:10:24
6 E. Amos (Buggy) +1:19:42
7 Sk. Al Qassimi (Peugeot) +1:21:09
8 G. De Villiers +1:21:47
9 M. Prokop (Ford) +1:22:44
10 J. Przygonski +1:35:30