Despite three punctures picked up on the rocky terrain of the 11th special stage of the Dakar Rally in Chile’s Atacama Desert on Thursday, South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz (Toyota Imperial Hilux) scored their third podium finish with third place.
The 2009 Dakar winners finished 12m 38s behind stage winners Orlando Terranova of Argentina and Portuguese co-driver Paulo Piuza (Mini), who knocked them back from fourth to fifth overall in the general classification in the process. Second, 10m 57s in arrears, were current overall leaders Nani Roma of Spain and Michel Perin of France (Mini).
In the overall standings Roma and Perin lead team-mates and defending champions Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret of France (Mini) by 5m 32s with just two stages remaining before the finish in Valparaiso on Saturday. Third are Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz (Mini), 56m 01s in arrears. Terranova/Piuza are 1h 03m 39 seconds back and 12m 18s ahead of De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz.
It was the third-longest special stage of the event after stages four and 10, covering 605 kilometres of mine tracks, river crossings and the sand dunes of Copiapo between Antofagasta and El Salvador.
De Villiers: “I was trying to be careful today. It was a good stage. We caught up with two of the Minis in the rocky section but then had our first puncture. We caught up with them again and they just pulled away from us in the sandy hills. We caught them for a third time in a rocky section, but then we had a second puncture. We hit a rock in the road very hard about 30 kilometres from the finish and picked up another puncture – we have now had 13 punctures so far, the most I’ve ever had on the Dakar. Otherwise the car went very well and we had no problems. We have another long day tomorrow and anything can happen.”
Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie came back strongly after a bad day on Wednesday – they only reached the bivouac in Antofagasta at 02:00 on Thursday after waiting four hours for their support truck to arrive and replace a broken front upright – and improved their overall position from 43rd to 33rd. It was a brave fight back as they started 85th on the road behind 48 cars and 32 trucks.
They also suffered three punctures and were forced to drive the last 100 kilometres slowly as they had no more tyres.
South African Toyota privateers Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr continued to impress, bringing home their ex-Toyota Motorsport Hilux in 50th place on the stage and 25th overall despite being slowed by two punctures and having to contend with the dust of the 21 cars and 12 trucks that started ahead of them.
The Toyota Land Cruisers of Japanese/French duo Jun Mitsuhashi and Alain Guehennic and team-mates Nicolas Gibon of France and Akira Miura of Japan improved their overall positions to 20th and 21st respectively after finishing 24th and 23rd on Thursday’s stage and retain first and second places in the T2 class for production vehicles.
Japan’s Teruhito Sugawara and Hiroyuki Sugiura (Hino) and Sugawara’s son Yoshimasa and Katsumi Hamura (Hino) improved their overall positions in the T4 truck category to 12th and 28th overall.
The penultimate stage of the 2014 Dakar Rally covers 699 kilometres of which 350 are a racing section between El Salvador and La Serena. It’s another high-altitude start and this will ensure that the morning known as the Camanchaca will not delay proceedings as it has done in the past. Sand will again feature, with a big string of dunes at the end of the stage. This will not be a time for the current podium contenders to take risks.
The cars will start the racing section from the bivouac at 10:18 (15:18 SA time) and will complete the closing liaison section from 19:20 (00:20).
Toyota Motorsport South Africa Acknowledges Its Dakar Sponsors, Specialist Official Suppliers and Technical Partners
Toyota, Imperial Toyota Group, Duxbury Netgear, Innovation Group, Toyota Financial Services, SAA Cargo, Blue Sky, Bosch, Castrol, DeWalt, Donaldson, Edgecam, 4×4 Mega World, Hallspeed, Mastercraft, NGK, Oakley, SKF, Spanjaard, Sparco and TFM.