It was a day of big moves on the Dakar Rally, as the entire race relocated to Chile by traversing the spectacular Andes mountain range before the start of the stage.
But for the Toyota Imperial South African Dakar Team, it was the fleet-footed Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie (#327) that made most of the moves, when the pair improved from 21st overall after stage 3, to 14th after arriving in the town of Copiapo.
Stage 4 saw the teams complete a monster liaison of 594 km, from the Argentine town of Chilecito, across the Chilean border and down from more than 4,600 m above sea level to the mining town of Copiapo. While the town itself may be more famous for the miners who were epically rescued there in 2010, to motorsport fans the world over it is synonymous with the massive dune that sees crews descend from the Andes and almost straight into the bivouac.
“For us it was a great stage,” said Poulter after completing the 315 km-long special. “We were fastest through the first couple of checkpoints, but then the big dunes started. We got stuck twice near the end, but still managed the 9th fastest time on the day.”
For Poulter/Howie it was a day of recovery, after they lost nearly an hour on Stage 3. Still, the pair battled on and called upon their so-called ‘joker’, which allows them to improve their start time once during the event. As such they pulled away 19th on the road, despite recording only the 40th-fastest time on Stage 3. This allowed them to work their way through the field, reclaiming nine positions in the process.
“We are very pleased with Leeroy and Rob’s progress,” said Team Principal Glyn Hall after the stage. “They have shown patience and maturity on this event so far, and I firmly believe it will pay off in the long run. Giniel and Dirk, in the meantime, did exactly what we expected of them.”
Giniel de Villiers and German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz (#303) posted another great stage time, despite having to open most of the route after the demise of MINI driver Orlando Terranova. The Argentine driver, who won Stage 3 of the event, lost a mass of time after contact with a rock took out the rear suspension of his race vehicle.
The Toyota Imperial Hilux pair completed the stage in third position, behind leader Nasser Al-Attiyah (MINI) and Nani Roma (MINI), losing 2:57 to the overall Al-Attiyah in the process. This places them 8:15 behind Al-Attiyah in the overall standings, with Saudi debutant Yazeed Alrajhi (Toyota Hilux) more than 15 minutes behind them in third.
“We had another good stage today, and we’ve just got to stay focussed,” said De Villiers from the bivouac at Copiapo. “The Hilux ran like clockwork, and we are looking forward to another Chilean stage tomorrow.”
Stage 5 starts near Copiapo and sees the crews end the day in a bivouac at the town of Antofagasta. Inbetween lie 174 km of road section, followed by 458 km of special stage, before a 65 km liaison to the bivouac. The ultra-fine fesh-fesh dust is sure to play a role on the stage, but that is all part of the odyssey that is Dakar 2015.