Stage 9 of Dakar 2019 will long be remembered as a turning point in the race. If not for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, then certainly for the crews trying to catch Nasser Al Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel. The Toyota Hilux crew started the stage as the outright leaders, and aimed to play it safe in order to ensure victory on January 17th.
But then the Dakar Rally threw a curveball that decimated the chasing pack – “Mr Dakar”, Stéphane Peterhansel was forced to retire after his navigator, David Castera, injured his back when their MINI suffered a hard landing after a jump; Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot), who had been on a charge over the past three stages, lost a mass of time after getting stuck early in the stage. He lost more time working on his car, but managed to complete the stage just over an hour behind Al Attiyah. This moves him down to third in the overall standings, leaving MINI’s Nani Roma clear in second place.
At the same time, MINI driver Cyril Despres and navigator Jean-Paul Cottret rolled their car in the dunes, again shuffling the middle order. To make matters even more interesting, 2018 champion Carlos Sainz (MINI) didn’t start the stage after his car suffered transmission failure.
“In the end the stage played right into our hands,” said an elated Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, after the two Toyota Hilux crews made it safely to the bivouac at Pisco. “But Nasser and Giniel stuck to our own game plan, and delivered exactly what we needed – two cars home with no problems, a healthy lead and just one stage to go.”
Al Attiyah and Baumel set about the task of completing the 313 km-long stage early on the morning of January 16th. Stage 9 started with the cars going off in groups of four, and Al Attiyah was paired with Loeb, Roma and teammate Giniel de Villiers. The Qatari driver didn’t allow himself to be baited, despite starting alongside two of his closest challengers, and drove the stage at his own, measured pace.
Even so, the Toyota Hilux crew set the fastest time on the day, beating Roma to the finish by nearly five minutes. De Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz finished the stage in third place, 02:17 behind Roma.
“We had a really good, clean stage today,” said Al Attiyah after reaching the bivouac at Pisco. “It was a great comfort to me to know that Giniel and Dirk were following us closely. As we saw today, anything can happen on the Dakar.”
This brings Al Attiyah/Baumel’s Stage Win tally for Dakar 2019 to three, and sees the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew head to the final stage with an advantage of 51:27 over MINI’s Nani Roma and Alex Haro. Loeb / Elena now find themselves relegated to third, more than two hours behind Al Attiyah.
“It is difficult to focus on anything beyond Nasser and Mathieu leading the rally with one stage to go,” said Hall. “But the reality is that we now have four of our South African-built Toyota Hilux race cars in the Top 10, including Giniel who is up to 8th.”
The other two Toyota Hilux crews are Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot (#319) in ninth; and Benediktas Vanagas and Sebastian Rozwadowski (#330) in tenth.
With Stage 9 done and dusted, all that remains of Dakar 2019 is a relatively short stage of 112km, which will start and finish at the bivouac in Pisco. The stage will be run in reverse order, with the last of the crews going off first, before the leaders take to the sands for the final time. Once the stage is complete, the crews will drive the last liaison of the event back to the Peruvian capital of Lima, where the cars will enter parc ferme until the podium ceremony later in the evening.
“But don’t let the short stage fool you,” cautioned Hall. “We saw today how fickle the Dakar can be – so we’ll be holding our breath until the Hilux is safely out of the stage. With that said, we’re doing everything we can to make sure both Nasser and Giniel’s cars are well-prepared for the final stage. Beyond that, all we can do is hope that the crews come through without any major problems.”
STAGE 9 RESULTS:
- Al Attiyah / Baumel (TOYOTA)
- Roma / Haro (MINI) +04:58
- De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz (TOYOTA) +07:15
- Przygonski / Colsoul (MINI) +14:01
- Vanagas / Rozwadowski (TOYOTA) +15:45
- Prokop / Tomanek (Ford) +32:59
- Al Rajhi / Gottschalk (MINI) +33:25
- Despres / Cottret (MINI) +39:46
- Van Loon / Scholtalbers (TOYOTA) +45:56
- Krotov / Tsyro (MINI) +46:42
OVERALL STANDINGS AFTER STAGE 9:
- Al Attiyah / Baumel (TOYOTA)
- Roma / Haro (MINI) +51:27
- Loeb / Elena (Peugeot) +02:02:37
- Przygonski / Colsoul (MINI) +02:33:51
- Despres / Cottret (MINI) +02:55:13
- Prokop / Tomanek (Ford) +03:29:06
- Al Rajhi / Gottschalk (MINI) +04:28:22
- De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz (TOYOTA) +07:08:16
- Chabot / Pillot (TOYOTA) +08:11:46
- Vanagaz / Rozwadowski (TOYOTA) +08:15:26