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Diego, the invincible

6 April 2018

Once upon a time a man lived in Lima, Peru. His name was Diego*.

Diego loved 4x4s, and off-road driving. He owned a Toyota Prado 4.0 V6 (a six-speed manual, nogal) with some extra off-road kit added. And a free-flow performance exhaust which came with pleasing sound effects. He belonged to a local 4×4 club.

One day, Diego received a phone call: the Dakar Rally was coming to town, and the organisers needed some local 4×4 experts to ferry their guests from Lima to Pisco, then into the Atacama Desert, and finally, back to Lima.

And so, as Lady Fate would have it, South African rally and off-road racing champion and Toyota Gazoo Racing SA factory driver Leeroy Poulter – who was recovering from surgery and not competing in the Dakar – landed up driving with Diego in his booming Prado.

Diego however, was quite unaware that the soft-spoken lad clutching the grab handle in the back seat of the Prado finished fifth overall in the 2017 Dakar Rally.

Diego was not the greatest on-road driver in the world, it must be said. But let’s not dwell on those details. Instead, we’ll skip ahead to the Atacama Desert, and the third day that a slightly jittery Poulter had been a backseat passenger in the Prado.

Diego was not the only Peruvian assisting the race organisers in ferrying guests around. A fleet of 4x4s operated in a large pack. There were the experienced members of Diego’s 4×4 club who were in a variety of 4x4s: from a tiny Mitsubishi Pajero iO to a huge Nissan Patrol, and anything in between.

The fleet also included a large number of rented Toyota Hilux double cab 4x4s, piloted by rookie desert drivers. The 4×4 club members were each assigned a platoon of rented Hilux bakkies, to get the rookies through the dunes.

So Diego led a small pack of Hilux bakkies with wide-eyed drivers behind the wheel through the dunes. It was 1pm, and it was piping hot. When it’s that hot, desert sand turns into an evil kind of liquid substance that will quickly catch the unwary.

Diego was unwary. On a section of soft sand he was simply going too slowly, and the Prado spun its four wheels, only sinking deeper into the sand, no matter if he was trying to go forward or reverse. Embarrassingly, the rookie drivers in their rented Hilux bakkies all circumnavigated the Prado, not getting stuck.

At this stage, Leeroy exited the Prado, surveying the unfolding drama. A fellow 4×4 club member’s VW Amarok was summoned, a tow strap was attached and… the bakkie only managed to bog itself down, not moving the Toyota an inch.

“Hey Diego, what is the pressure of your tyres?” Poulter asked Diego, who was flapping about some, clearly flustered.

“Eeez 1.2 bar,” mumbled Diego.

“They need to be at 0.8 bar. The sand is too soft for 1.2 bar,” recommended Poulter.

Behind the steering wheel, Diego ignored Poulter’s comment, preferring to embed the Prado deeper into the sand, spinning the tyres aimlessly.

“We need to deflate the tyres, Diego,” tried Poulter again. “I’ve driven a little bit in sand before.”

That was, of course, a bit of an understatement. Three Dakars, countless local Cross-Country Championships, many years of rallies… he’s got a fair idea about driving in sand, you could say.

But Diego was not going to budge. So Poulter, maybe getting just a little bit annoyed, grabbed the tyre pressure gauge from between the front seats, and proceeded to deflate the tyres to 0.8 bar, with or without Diego’s permission.

When all the tyres were deflated to 0.8 bar, and with the Amarok detached from the Prado, Diego had another go… and the Prado drove itself out of the four holes it had dug for itself, as if it had never been stuck in the first place.

The moral of the story? Don’t be like Diego.

Sometimes it’s okay to listen to advice.

* Diego is not his real name

Text and image: Danie Botha


Read our in-depth interview with Leeroy Poulet here.