It was a tough opening stage at Dakar 2020 for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, as a total of eleven punctures hamstrung the four Toyota Hilux crews.
Defending champions, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, set the early pace, but three punctures just 100 km from the end of the 319 km-long special stage saw the Qatari and his French co-driver drop down the order to fifth place, some 5min 33sec behind stage winners, Vaidotas Zala and Saulius Jurgelenas (MINI).
“It was a disappointing end to a fantastic stage for Nasser and Mathieu,” said TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Team Principal, Glyn Hall, after the crews reached the bivouac at Al Wajh. “They set the pace from the get-go, and they were on for an emphatic victory. But then fate intervened, and as a result they’ll have a bit of a fight on their hands for the next few days.”
Teammates Giniel de Villiers and Spanish co-driver, Alex Haro, had it even worse than the Qatari and his French co-driver. The pair suffered four punctures during the stage, and had to stop three times to change wheels. The final puncture was a slow leak, and the pair managed to make their way to the finish after inflating the tyre using the manual on-board inflation system.
“It was nervous end to the stage, as we had no spares left,” said the South African motorsport legend. “The fact that I was under the weather didn’t help either.”
The punctures set the crew on the back foot, and they ended the day in 14th place, some 23min 16sec behind the leaders.
They were bested on the day by teammates Bernhard ten Brinke and Tom Colsoul, who had only two punctures during the stage. The flying Dutchman went fifth-fastest, losing just 6min 30sec to the stage winners. He reported a clean run, other than the punctures, and praised the Toyota Hilux’s performance.
The Spanish duo of Fernando Alonso and Marc Coma successfully completed their first ever Dakar stage together. They also suffered two punctures, and lost additional time due to some problems with navigation. Beyond that, however, the pair sailed through their maiden Dakar stage together, and are ready to tackle Stage 2.
The next stage will see the Dakar crews take on a 367 km-long special stage between the cities of Al Wajh and Neom, on Saudi Arabia’s eastern coast. The terrain along the Red Sea promises more hard-pack and rocky tracks, which could play havoc with the tyres again. Dakar 2020 is scheduled to conclude in Riyahd on Friday, 17 January, after 12 competitive stages.
STAGE 1 Results – TOYOTA GAZOO Racing:
5. Nasser Al-Attiyah / Mathieu Baumel +05:33
6. Bernhard ten Brinke / Tom Colsoul +06:30
11. Fernando Alonso / Marc Coma +15:27
14. Giniel de Villiers / Alex Haro +23:16