South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz (Toyota Imperial Hilux) completed the first week of the Dakar Rally in fourth place overall after finishing fourth on Friday’s special stage six between Tucuman and Salta in Argentina on Friday.
Team-mates Leeroy Poulter, competing in his first Dakar, and Rob Howie are 29th overall after finishing 26th on Friday’s 424-kilometre stage, equivalent in length to a single round of the South African cross country championship.
Nani Roma of Spain and French co-driver Michel Perin (MINI) are the overall leaders in the general classification with a time of 22h 11m 28s as the competitors take a well-earned rest day in Salta on Saturday before the rally resumes on Sunday with the last of the seven stages in Argentina. Six stages will follow in Chile before the rally ends in Valparaiso on January 18.
For now, it’s a welcome respite from the hardships of the 9 500-kilometre marathon and a time to rest weary bodies and battered machines and prepare for the second week.
Second overall are Argentine Orlando Terranova and Portuguese co-driver Paulo Fiuza in a MINI (+30m 30s), followed by French team-mates and defending champions Stephane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret (+32m 33s). De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz are 40m 54s in arrears and 46m 41s ahead of fifth-placed Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz in a MINI. Spain’s Carlos Sainz and Timo Gottschalk of Germany are sixth in an SMG Buggy, 1h 59m 38s behind the leaders.
Five of the top six drivers are former Dakar winners: Roma on a motorcycle in 2004, Peterhansel six times on a motorcycle between 1991 and 1998 and five times in a car since 2004 including the past two years, De Villiers in 2009, Al-Attiyah in 2011 and Sainz in 2010.
All are competing in the T1 class for Improved Cross Country Vehicles. Roma is leading the four-wheel drive diesel class, De Villiers is first in the four-wheel drive petrol class and Sainz is the front runner in the two-wheel drive petrol class.
De Villiers: “We’re happy to be here at the end of the first week. It’s been one of the toughest Dakars since we came to South America in 2009, particularly in the last two days. We’ve had a few problems which otherwise might have seen us closer to the front, but we’re in a good position to challenge for the podium in the second week.
“The car is working well now and this is what we need for what will be an even tougher second week, with some very long stages. Nani has a big lead, but we’ve seen already in the past six days how easily things can change.”
Poulter: “This has been one of the toughest weeks I’ve experienced in my entire motor racing career. Thank goodness Saturday’s a rest day! We’re just happy to have survived the first week and had some good stage results. We know the second half of the race is going to be even tougher, but I’m a lot better prepared than I was a week ago.”
Team manager Glyn Hall: ““It’s been a tough and hectic week, for sure. Giniel and Dirk have had a very good run so far and we’re in a good position to challenge for a podium position in Valparaiso on January 18. Leeroy has been very impressive on debut and he has shown that he has the pace to finish stages among the elite drivers like Giniel. With a bit more luck he and Rob could have been in the top 10, but the Dakar comes with its own unique challenges and they are learning fast.
“Calling Saturday a rest day is a bit of a misnomer as it’s anything but for the technical team. We’ll be stripping down both cars and checking everything and replacing components where necessary. We still have another tough week of racing ahead of us before we can say we conquered the Dakar again.”
Sunday’s stage seven is a 763-kilometre mega loop from Salta to Salta with a racing section of 533 kilometres that will test the competitors’ ability to adapt to changes of pace. After stony terrain at the beginning of the day, some top speeds will be recorded in the second part of the special stage. The drivers’ road techniques will be tested, at an average altitude of almost 3 500 metres. Their day will end with a crossing of a vast salt flat extending over more than 20 kilometres.
The stage will start at 06:45 (11:45 SA time) and the first car is due back at the Salta bivouac at 16:00 (21:00).