Dakar 2015 served up a curveball for the race crews on Stage 9, with not only a challenging route from Iquique to Calama, but also a particularly hard-to-find waypoint that had many crews scrambling around, searching for the elusive beacon in the Atacama dust.
While some crews lost significant amounts of time, the Toyota Imperial Dakar Team’s Giniel de Villiers and German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz managed to restrict their loss to only 15 minutes.
“We knew we had to try something special today,” said a disappointed De Villiers from the bivouac at Calama. “Dirk identified a slightly shorter route for us, and if it came off we would have taken a fair bit of time from Nasser (Al-Attiyah, rally leader). As it turned out, it wasn’t the right decision, and the entire situation was made worse when we couldn’t find one of the waypoints in the choking dust.”
While most crews struggled to find the waypoint, former winner Nani Roma (MINI) and teammate Al-Attiyah managed to find the spot before the rest, and as a result Roma won the stage, followed six minutes later by Al-Attiyah. By the time the dust settled over Stage 9, Al-Attiyah held a 23:58 lead of De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz, with fellow Toyota driver Yazeed Alrahji holding steady in third place, sixteen minutes further back.
“In a race like this, it is important to focus on the positives,” said Team Principal Glyn Hall from Calama. “Giniel and Dirk tried to do something extraordinary today, but it simply didn’t go entirely to plan. Had they pulled it off, we may have been right on Nasser’s tail or even leading the Dakar. Giniel really pushed hard today and was set on taking time from Nasser. He lead for a large part of the stage, but then they had the problem with the waypoint. As it stands we lost some time to the lead, but at the same time we increased our lead over third-placed Alrahji. So all in all, a good result despite the elusive waypoint.”
For Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie, in the second Toyota Imperial Hilux, the waypoint in question also presented difficulties.
“By the time we reached that point, the ground had been churned up a lot. It is also an area filled with fine fesh-fesh dust, and the crews ahead of us were milling around trying to find the waypoint. As a result we couldn’t see much, and it took us more than an hour to pin down the spot before we could move on,” said Poulter after the stage.
The pair posted the 27th fastest time on today’s stage, but due to the other crews also losing time in the thick dust, they maintained their 18th position overall. This means they will have to start 27th on the road for Stage 10, which places them in the midst of slower crews, together with the resulting dust.
“We’ve still got four stages to go, so there’s plenty of racing to come,” continued Hall. “But the reality is that, after today, we probably can’t catch Nasser on outright pace. Then again, anything can happen on the Dakar, and it often does. So we’ll just keep pushing as hard as we can, and see which way the chips fall come Buenos Aires on 17 January.”
Next up is Stage 10, which sees the entire Dakar circus relocate to Argentina via a 385 km liaison. The competitive section of the stage is 358 km in length, and starts once the crews have crossed the border back into Argentina. The route will take competitors over sand, soil and a short tarmac section, and ascend from 3,600 m in altitude to more that 4,500 m before dropping back down to 3,400 m. This is the last of the completely barren desert stages, before the Dakar returns to the lusher landscapes of Argentina.