Both Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Toyota Hilux race cars have passed scrutineering for the 2018 Qatar Cross-Country Rally, and are now all set to tackle the first racing stage on Wednesday, 18 April. This event is Round 4 of the FIA Cross-Country World Cup, of which the Toyota driver Nasser Al Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel are defending champions.
The team concluded two days of testing in the desert near Doha over the weekend prior to the race. The terrain in the desert to the west of the Qatari capital city offered the team a variety of terrain types, including soft sand dunes and extremely rough rocky tracks.
“This is exactly what we wanted for our test session,” explains Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “We gained valuable insight during our two days in the desert, and we are confident that the results from the test will allow us to further develop the Toyota Hilux.”
As it stands, Al Attiyah/Baumel won the last two Qatar Cross-Country Rallies with a Toyota Hilux, and even though this year will be the first time that the all-new version of the Toyota will be racing in Qatar, the team has every reason to be confident.
“Nasser and Mathieu have proven themselves here over the years, and thus far the new Toyota Hilux has been equal to the challenge,” continues Hall. “With that said, this is the first time that Giniel (de Villiers) and Rob (Howie) will be facing the Qatari desert, so there’s still a big challenge that lies ahead for the team.”
De Villiers/Howie teamed up for the 2018 South African Cross-Country Series, and have now also been paired for their first International race together. The crew recorded their first victory together on Round 1 of the SACCS, the Dullstroom 400, in March 2018, and will certainly aim to be in the hunt to continue their winning form in Qatar.
The race gets under way with Stage 1 of 5 on Wednesday, 18 April. The race HQ and bivouac is set at the Losail International Race Circuit to the north of Doha, with each day’s stage heading westward from the bivouac and into the desert, before returning. Stage 1 is a short, sharp affair – at only 4,5 km in length, it is hardly going to offer an opportunity to win the race. However, it will determine the starting positions for Stage 2, which is 350 km in length, and road position can prove critical on this event.
“Winning tomorrow’s stage will give us the opportunity to choose our starting position for Stage 2” says Hall. “This would be ideal, of course, but anywhere among the top three would give us a good starting position.”
The 2018 Qatar Cross-Country Rally concludes on Sunday, 22 April, in the Qatari capital of Doha.