Leeroy Poulter got his maiden Dakar Rally off to the best possible start when he and co-driver Rob Howie, competing in his third Dakar, brought their Toyota Imperial Hilux #323 home in ninth place at the end of the first day of the 14-day 36th edition of the world’s longest and toughest motor race through Argentina and Chile on Sunday.
The pair started in 23rd place on the road on the first of the rally’s 13 stages, from Rosario to San Luis in Argentina. They were fastest to the first control point of the 180-kilometre special stage, which was sandwiched by liaison sections of 405 and 224 kilometres, but then lost time when they got stuck in the dust behind slower cars.
Team-mates and 2009 Dakar Rally winners Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz also successfully negotiated the opening stage, which featured a tight and technical racing section not unlike a South African cross country event, and were placed 27th in the provisional results in the #302 Hilux after starting in third place.
They were prevented from making a better start when they experienced power steering problems as a result of a leaking fitting on the hydraulic jack, which utilises the same lubricating system. They lost a lot of time stopping on three separate occasions to top up the fluid and eventually drove the last 50 kilometres with no power steering after using up all their oil and brake fluid supplies.
The stage was won by Carlos Sousa and Miguel Ramalho of Portugal in a Haval in a time of 2h 20m 36s, from Orlando Terranova of Argentina and Paulo Filiza of Portugal (MINI) +11s and Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Lucas Cruz of Spain (MINI) +47s. Poulter/Howie were +5m 57s and De Villiers and German co-driver Von Zitzewitz were +15m 57s.
Leeroy Poulter: “I was nervous at the beginning, but the roads were the kind that I am used to and I was happy with our pace. We didn’t actually know we had led at one stage, but we suspected we might be doing quite well when we noticed we were being shadowed by a helicopter. The dust was very thick and we were unable to pass some of the slower cars, so we lost our early advantage. We had no problems with the car and are happy to have finished the day in the top 10.”
Giniel de Villiers: “It was the worst possible stage to experience power steering problems, very tight and technical, and it was almost impossible to drive for the last 50 kilometres. It was not the start we were hoping for, but there is still a long way to go and we will concentrate on the days ahead, one at a time. The car is very good and I’m impressed with the new engine.”
Monday’s 799-kilometre stage two from San Luis to San Rafael starts at 05:50 Argentina time (10:50 SA time) and consists of a 304-kilometre liaison section followed by a 43-kilometre racing section and final 62 kilometres of liaison to the overnight bivouac, where the first car is due at 15:50 (20:50). .
It is the fastest special stage of the rally, at least for the first part, and will also see the drivers face the first dunes. In the last 100 kilometres of the racing section the grey dunes of Nihuil will provide a stern test of competitors’ technical skills.
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.