Another long day saw the Dakar Rally move from Peru to Bolivia, trading the soft dunes that marked the opening stages of the race for fast gravel tracks. At the same time, the race reached new heights, as Stage 6 peaked near the 4,800 metre mark.
All three Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux crews reported clean runs, with Nasser Al Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel the pick of the bunch. The Qatari driver posted the third-fastest time on Stage 6, which comprised 313 km of special stage, as well as 447 km of liaison between the Peruvian city of Arequipa, and the Bolivian city of La Paz.
Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz was fourth-fastest on the day, finishing the stage 05:31 behind winner Carlos Sainz (Peugeot). Second on the stage was overall rally leader Stephane Peterhansel, also in a Peugeot. For De Villiers, however, it was clear that the naturally aspirated V8 engine of the Toyota Hilux was at a disadvantage on the high-altitude stage.
“We certainly felt the power deficit,” said De Villiers after spending more than 12 hours behind the wheel of his Toyota Hilux (stage and liaison combined). “But in the end, it is the fact that those buggies are more than 300 km lighter than our car that made the biggest difference on the day.”
Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke and French navigator Michel Périn continued their impressive run, despite running as the second car on the road today. They had very little help from the leading Peugeot, especially on the second part of the stage where there were almost no tracks to follow.
“Even so, we drove well, and the Hilux ran like clockwork,” said Ten Brinke from the bivouac at La Paz. “If anything, I think we can move to a more aggressive setup for the coming stages, as these are closer to rally stages than cross-country stages.”
In the end, Ten Brinke/Périn finished the stage in 7th place, 09:31 behind Sainz. This sees the Dutch driver maintain his third position in the general classification, with Al Attiyah holding steady in fourth, and De Villiers in fifth. As things stand, the Top 5 crews consist of two Peugeots and three Toyotas, and only 01:35:59 separate the man in fifth (De Villiers) from Peterhansel in the lead.
Next up is a breather for the race crews, with the rest day in La Paz. Traditionally this is an extremely busy day for the technical crews as they have to strip all three race vehicles, check every part of each car, make repairs where necessary, and finally reassemble them in preparation for the remainder of the race.
“What makes this rest day somewhat more challenging is the fact that it doesn’t quite sit in the middle of the rally as in the past – we’ll have eight more stages after the break,” explained Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “Add to that the marathon stage, which follows directly after the rest day, and it is clear that we need to make absolutely sure that everything is well prepared during the rest day.”
The marathon stage will see the race crews depart from the bivouac in La Paz on a 425 km-long stage to the iconic salt flat of Uyuni, on the high plains of Bolivia. Here the race crews will have to service their own cars, without assistance from the technical crews, before tackling Stage 8. This stage consists of another 498 km of racing between Uyuni and Tupiza, where the race crews will be reunited with the rest of the team.
“The marathon stage is usually a tense time for us, but we have every confidence in the Toyota Hilux,” concluded Hall. “But we have to take things one day at a time, and as such we’ll concentrate on the rest day first.”
STAGE 6 RESULTS:
1 C. Sainz (Peugeot) 02:53:30
2 S. Peterhansel (Peugeot) +04:06
3 N. Al Attiyah (TOYOTA) +05:05
4 G. De Villiers (TOYOTA) +05:31
5 C. Despres (Peugeot) +08:49
6 M. Hirvonen (Mini) +08:56
7 B. Ten Brinke (TOYOTA) +09:31
8 L. Alvarez (Toyota) +12:26
9 M. Prokop (Ford) +12:31
10 J. Przygonski (Mini) +12:39
OVERALL STANDINGS AFTER STAGE 6:
1 S. Peterhansel (Peugeot) 16:52:02
2 C. Sainz (Peugeot) +00:27:10
3 B. Ten Brinke (TOYOTA) +01:20:41
4 N. Al Attiyah (TOYOTA) +01:24:20
5 G. De Villiers (TOYOTA) +01:35:59
6 J. Przygonski (Mini) +02:25:16
7 M. Prokop (Ford) +02:25:52
8 E. Amos (Buggy) +02:30:58
9 P. Sireyjol (Buggy) +03:25:35
10 P. van Merksteijn (Toyota) +03:53:24