With the final pre-Dakar 2017 test session now done and dusted, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA have announced a two-car line-up for the iconic race, which takes place during the first two weeks of next year. The team now features two former Dakar winners, in the form of Giniel de Villiers, partnered with Dirk von Zitzewitz; and Nasser Al Attiyah, with Matthieu Baumel beside him.
De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz have campaigned the Toyota Hilux in Dakar since 2012, achieving podium finishes in all but one attempt so far. The pair have proven themselves as highly accomplished and experienced campaigners, having won the event together in 2009. Furthermore, De Villiers has one of the highest start-to-podium ratios in the history of the Dakar, and has missed out on a Top 10 finish only once since he first tackled the race in 2003.
Al Attiyah and Baumel may be new to the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team, but they’re certainly no strangers to the Toyota Hilux. The pair fielded a South-African built Toyota Hilux in this year’s FIA Cross-Country World Cup, winning each round they entered, and taking the championship in the process. In addition, they also won the grueling Rally of Morocco in October 2016, proving not only that they’re a crew to be reckoned with, but also that the Toyota Hilux is capable of performing well on any stage.
Also new for 2017 is a partnership with Red Bull. The Austrian energy drink manufacturer and media brand already supports both De Villiers and Al Attiyah, and a tie-up for the 2017 Dakar seemed a natural fit.
“We’re pleased to be able to partner with Red Bull for 2017,” says Toyota SA Motors’ Glenn Crompton, Vice President: Marketing. “As a global media and communications brand, Red Bull is the perfect match for our all-star line-up.”
The crews will tackle Dakar 2017 with the proven four-wheel-drive version of the Toyota Hilux. This is the same version of the car that brought Al Attiyah/Baumel glory in the FIA’s World Cup, though numerous developments and performance advances will ensure that it is capable of performing at the very highest levels.
“We were all very excited about the arrival of the Toyota Hilux Evo, which we unveiled earlier this year,” says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “However, despite the promising performance of the car, we’ve found significantly more performance in the four-wheel-drive during parallel testing. This, together with Nasser and Matthieu’s victories abroad, have made it clear to us that the four-wheel-drive is more than capable of taking on the very best cars and drivers in the world.”
The four-wheel-drive Toyota Hilux has also proven to be an extremely reliable race vehicle in the past, and with a bigger air restrictor – due to the average altitude of Dakar 2017 being above 2,000 metres – the car is sure to perform well.
“We’re also in the fortunate position to have two of the most experienced crews in the world in our team this year,” continued Hall. “Giniel and Dirk have consistently performed well on the Dakar, and Nasser and Matthieu have just won the FIA’s World Cup – and that’s in addition to winning the Dakar in 2011 and 2015. So we have the best of the best, driving our proven four-wheel-drive Toyota Hilux for Dakar 2017.”
Unfortunately, South African cross-country champion Leeroy Poulter, who finished fifth during Dakar 2016, won’t be racing at Dakar 2017. The newly crowned SA cross-country and rally champion had to undergo surgery recently, and while he has been given a clean bill of health, he is still recovering.
The team conducted their final test session, in preparation for Dakar 2017, at a location near Upington in the Northern Cape this week. The rough and sandy terrain of the area allowed Toyota Gazoo Racing SA to test the Toyota Hilux in conditions that closely mimic those encountered on many Dakar stages, including rocky sections and soft dune crossings.
“The performance of the Toyota Hilux at this week’s test was highly encouraging,” says Hall. “It was also great to have Nasser and Matthieu here on South African soil, putting the car through its paces, and giving invaluable feedback in preparation for the race.”
Next up for the team is the mammoth task of packing for Dakar, including the cataloguing and meticulous storage of literally thousands of spare parts. These parts will be shipped to South America shortly, in preparation for the start of Dakar 2017 in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción on January 2nd, 2017.
The race, which takes place in Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, concludes in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires on January 14th, 2017. In between lie nearly 10,000 km of travel for the teams, and in the end, just one winner of the most grueling motor race in the world.
Source: Toyota SA