Leeroy Poulter’s impressive start to his first Dakar Rally continued in Argentina on Tuesday when he and co-driver Rob Howie finished the racing section of stage three between San Luis and San Juan in third place in their Toyota Imperial Hilux and improved their overall position to 10th.
They recorded a time of 3h 2m 11s for the 301-kilometre special stage, 3m 19s slower than stage winners Nani Roma of Spain and Michel Perin of France (MINI) and 2m 12s behind the Polish/Russian duo of Krzysztof Holowczyc and Konstantin Zhiltsov (MINI). Roma and Perin are also first in the overall classification after the first three stages, 9m 6s ahead of Orlando Terranova of Argentina and Paulo Fiuza of Portugal (MINI) and 10m clear of Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz (MINI). The South Africans trail the leaders by 45m 10s.
It was another fine performance by Poulter, who combined a cautious approach to several rocky sections in riverbeds where many others picked up punctures and attacked the fast, rally-type sections that were similar to South African conditions.
“We had a trouble-free run and managed to keep out of trouble,” said a smiling Poulter in the bivouac at the Autodromo El Zonda. “We took it relatively easy in the rocky sections to avoid picking up punctures and were able to make up good time in faster, more open sections. Dust was again a big problem, which made overtaking slower cars very difficult.
“The spectators are amazing. They line the streets of the cities and towns on the liaison sections and even on long stretches of the racing stages. They cheer you on and their support is very uplifting. This is what the Dakar is all about and I’m loving it.”
Toyota Imperial team-mates Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz maintained their sixth place overall despite picking up three punctures and finishing the day’s special stage in 13th place. They lost more than 13 minutes to the leaders on the day and now trail Roma and Perin by over 26 minutes.
“The stage was a lot tougher than we expected – quite technical with lots of thorn bushes and rocks,” said De Villiers. “Our on-board jack didn’t work so we had to change the first two flat wheels manually. We battled with the first one, which took us six to seven minutes, but managed to change the second one in four minutes. We finished the stage on a third slow puncture.
“We managed to defend our sixth place, but the intention was to close the gap to the leaders and now we’re even further behind. We’ll have to see what we can do about that in the next few days.”
The competitors face another demanding 658 kilometres of racing on Wednesday as well as 200 kilometres of liaison, between San Juan and Chilecito. At 858 kilometres, it’s the longest stage they’ve faced since the historic one from Zouerat to Tichit in Africa in 2005. They will have to cross rivers, descend the canyons in a Wild West setting and beware of fellow competitors – wide open spaces will allow for overtaking.
The first car left the San Juan bivouac at 06:15 (11:15 SA time) and is expected to arrive at the Chilecito overnight stop at 17:25 (22:25).