Dakar 2016 kicked off in Argentina, with innumerable amounts of spectators present.
A total of 347 vehicles competed this year. This included 136 motorcycles, 45 quads, 111 cars, and 55 trucks. Everyone’s eyes were on the Dakar this year. The new generation Hilux was off to a very positive start. Bernhard was pleasantly surprised with his result.
Competitors from the Moto category commenced their departure to the SS (Special Stage) from the bivouac at 04:00 am on day one, while the Auto category departed at 07:13 am. Clouds formed on the horizon, and a sudden thunderstorm hit the area. The farmlands on both sides of the road were instantly turned into soaking wet paddy fields. With safety as a top priority in mind, the organizers decided to cancel the SS (Special Stage).
Ironically at the bivouac, the weather had improved so much that the sun sometimes made an appearance. The competitors were regretful, as they had mentally prepared to begin the race.
Expectations of the Hilux were raised. Competitors were resetting themselves for the next day while the mechanics continued to carefully prepare their machines for what they hope to be a flawless run.
The stage was 510 km from Villa Carlos Paz to Termas de Rio Hondo, and the liaison is 337 km making a total of 847 km – a long stage.
There was an awkward feeling at the bivouac early in the morning in the misty rain. Stage 2 was shortened to 386 km and started without any setbacks. This stage had many winding paths, just like the ones in the FIA World Rally Championship where you can run at high speeds. But because of the recent heavy rain, drivers had to run across several bogs. If a driver got stuck in one of these traps, it can result in a significant loss of time.
With several highly experienced WRC drivers holding some of the top positions, Giniel de Villiers (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) was behind the leader – Sebastien Loeb – by 3 minutes and 1 second coming in at 3rd. Leeroy Poulter (#319 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) came in 5th, 3 minutes and 40 seconds behind the leader. Leeroy also managed to run this stage of Dakar 2016 without any major issues at a respectable pace and said he was very pleased with his run. Vladimir Vasilyev (#307 G-ENERGYTEAM) came in 6th place, with Bernhard ten Brinke (#311 OVERDRIVE TOYOTA) coming in at 7th. First timer Martin Prokop (#329 OVERDRIVE TOYOTA), a WRC driver, came in at 10th place. Martin said “I enjoyed today’s run but was surprised at the bogs which suddenly appeared – quite different to the WRC where we can refer to pace notes and be more prepared”.
Several vehicles were delayed as they got stuck in the mud and faced trouble, but the 2016 Hilux managed to take half of the Dakar 2016 top 10 spots, proving its off-road prowess.
The next day’s Dakar 2016 stage was 314 km, the Liaison 349 km – a total of 663 km. Just like stage 2, the route consists of many winding paths that are narrow and where it is difficult to overtake, climbing up and down hills. El Niño was making conditions tough in this race. It was cloudy when the cars left the bivouac (*1) but, just before they started the SS (Special Stage: A competition section), it suddenly began raining so heavily that the wipers couldn’t keep up. This resulted in a disappointingly slow start. The severe rain instantly turned the road muddy, making it difficult to accelerate. Rainwater flowing into ruts made the road more like a river, requiring very delicate braking operation. There were some dry sections of road along the way, which enabled drivers to pick up the pace on some routes. However, there were also many corners that were tighter than the days before SS. This required very cautious steering operation, and drivers couldn’t relax their concentration even for a moment.
Averaging about 3,500 m (max. 4000 m) in height, this route involved driving on rocky and sandy mountain roads, as well as a large salt lake called “Salinas Grandes”. As there is no assistance at the bivouac, the competitors themselves had to carry out any required maintenance.
The third driver to leave the bivouac was Giniel de Villiers (#301 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa). After initially falling to 9th place, he finished in 11th place despite a valiant effort. The seventh driver, Leeroy, got off to a slow start and fell way behind in 24th place but gradually recovered, finishing in 7th place. Yazeed, who had been struggling, was the ninth driver to start. While battling through the dust trail of the preceding vehicle, he moved up to 4th place and managed to finish in 6th place. In the overall ranking, Leeroy and Giniel did well, finishing in 4th place and 6th place respectively.
The Dakar 2016 Marathon Stage (*4) continued as far as Uyuni the next day, so the assistance vehicles have already left for Bolivia. Having worked to keep their cars going, the participants hoped to reach Uyuni without any major issues and greet the assistance vehicles with a smile.
Unlike previous Dakar 2016 stages, some parts of this stage was “off-piste” (no roads) which meant that the co-drivers needed to keep the car on course while battling headaches due to the lack of oxygen.
The vehicles drove from Jujuy-Jujuy, and then left the bivouac (*2) heading for Uyuni without any maintenance by the mechanics. This stage was again a battle at high altitudes. Although it was possible to pick up the speed on straight and flat stretches, there were also rut-less routes following wide dried up rivers, as well as streams created by the rain which were dangerous to cross. On routes with a large crevasse on each side, the drivers had to pay careful attention all the way to avoid falling in and damaging the suspension.
This high-altitude battle was tough on the vehicles and the participants, although Leeroy made it through to 5th place without even a puncture. He said, “It’s a shame that the lack of a turbo left us struggling to keep up with the diesel turbo vehicles at this altitude”. Giniel lost three minutes due to a puncture, finishing in 7th place. This was disappointing as he was making excellent progress otherwise. In the production category, Nicolas’ solid performance enabled him to keep the top position in the category, and 32nd place in the overall ranking. Akira Miura (#342 Team Land Cruiser TOYOTA AUTO BODY) also got a puncture, and finished in 47th place overall. Both the Hilux and Land Cruiser performed well without any issues other than punctures, despite the lack of maintenance on this Marathon Stage.
The skies were blue and clear, and the stage was a gruelling 542 km around the Salar de Uyuni salt flats. These runs at high altitudes have continued for several days. The human body is able to adapt to a certain degree, but the vehicles must manage with decreased power in this severe environment where engine response also lags. There are many high speed routes, but the area also has large and unexpected drops and bumps. One wrong call from the co-driver could be all it takes to land the car into some serious trouble.
Leeroy was running in 8th place when his vehicle overturned at around the 450 km mark. Right behind him was Giniel who helped him recover. Thanks to this impressive display of teamwork, they were both able to finish the stage. With a smile on his face, Giniel said “I had to help out Leeroy, but overall it was a really good day. Nicolas Gibon (#343 TEAM LAND CRUISER TOYOTA AUTO BODY) who was at the top of his category (production category) unfortunately broke his radiator in this stage. Together with his teammate Akira Miura (#342 TEAM LAND CRUISER TOYOTA AUTO BODY), demonstrating the toughness of both their teamwork and their car they were able to pull through to the finish line.
A day was allocated for rest. The vehicles received full maintenance, and everyone prepared themselves for the second half of Dakar 2016. The surfaces were hard in the first half, but the dunes in the second half is where the drivers will really be able to show off their skills. This year the participants had to cope with heavy rain and muddy high altitude locations.
Having started 7th, Giniel de Villiers (#301 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) rapidly progressed to 4th place, but then got stuck in the rocks and camelthorn just before the finish line. This left him in a disappointing 15th place. Giniel said, “I backed up to avoid rocks that were blocking my way, but I ended up getting grounded on the camelthorn behind me”. His co-driver, Dirk, commented “The ground was hard where we got stuck—by the time we got out, we had lost about 17 minutes.”
Struggling through the sand and dust, Leeroy Poulter (#319 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) put up a valiant effort and moved up to 3rd place. His co-driver, Howie, said “The shock from holes and rocks was shaking the car side to side, but the Hilux performed well. There were points where we had to navigate very cautiously, such as climbing the bank of a dried up river, but we progressed smoothly.” In the end, they finished in 8th place. Despite being hampered by clutch problems and getting stuck, Yazeed Alrajhi (#305 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) gritted his teeth and battled through to 9th place.
The assistance vehicles don’t have the hassle of moving, but it’s a tough stage for the competitors who must endure temperatures exceeding 40 degrees as they drive. The route presents many difficulties such as “off-piste” (no roads) sections, soft sand scattered with Camelthorn, and large depressions—all of which make it hard to pick up the pace. There are also areas where crowds of spectators gather, requiring steady and careful driving.
Yazeed Alrajhi (#305 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) finished in 8th place, 9 minutes 38 seconds behind the leader. In 11th place, Leeroy Poulter (#319 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) was 16 minutes 02 seconds behind the leader. Leeroy got stuck in a large depression, and the resulting 20 minute loss made all the difference for him.
At the end of the stage TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa’s team principal, Glyn Hall, said “The Hilux is a very durable car, so hot stages like this are a good opportunity for us. Unfortunately, though, this is a short Special Stage (*3) of only 285 km. A longer stage would really allow us to maximize the Hilux’s performance and it’s strong enough to take us into the lead.”
Following the thunderstorms overnight, stage 10 started one hour late and the Special Stage (*1) was shortened to 244.7 km. While several cars went off course soon after starting due to the lack of ruts on the route, Giniel stayed on course with some steady driving. A driveshaft was unfortunately damaged on the unforgiving dunes of this stage, but the team was only down for 8 minutes. This is impressive considering how tough the task is, as evidenced by the oil and grease on the racing suits worn by Giniel and co-driver Dirk as they arrived at the Bivouac (*2). Although they got stuck again later in the stage, they sensibly prioritized completing the stage, taking a steady and cautious approach and ultimately finishing in 6th place.
Despite getting stuck once, Leeroy Poulter (#319 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) skilfully made his way through the dunes to finish in 10th place. Yazeed Alrajhi (#305 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) fell way behind as a result of bolt damage in the wheel area sustained while battling with the dunes. The Hilux team finished in a respectable 3rd place today, thanks to a valiant effort by Vladimir. In the Production Category, Nicolas Gibon (#343 Team Land Cruiser TOYOTA AUTO BODY) made a swift comeback, taking the top position overall.
Taking it steady on the rough road sections, Yazeed finished in 5th place 11 minutes 57 seconds behind the leader. At the end of the stage, he commented “I’ll push harder tomorrow, but I want to prioritize finishing the stage rather than trying to drive a little faster.” Despite getting two punctures, Giniel de Villiers (#301 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) stayed on course thanks to clear navigation by his co-driver, Dirk. In the end, he finished in 7th place 12 minutes 58 seconds behind the leader. He said, “Tomorrow will be a decisive stage, so we’ll need to keep pushing all the way.” Leeroy Poulter (#319 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) was led off course by the buggy running in front, but managed to finish in 9th position.
The current overall ranking has Giniel in 3rd place, Leeroy in 5th place, Vladimir Vasilyev (#307 G-ENERGY TEAM) in 8th place, and Yazeed in 11th place.
The longest stage of the rally was at 931 km, with a Special Stage of 481. This surely tested the stamina of both the cars and the competitors.
Who can corner the fastest and punch out the highest speeds on the straights? It was all about who could sustain their speed the longest on today’s SS—perhaps one of the most decisive. Right after the start, Leeroy was already in 1st place and Giniel in 2nd, as they both accelerated in a one-two formation. It was a scene that showed off the impressive drivability of the Hilux on winding roads.
But after that, they came to a high speed straight running through the trees where their visibility was hampered and they fell behind. The car in front was kicking up a large amount of dust, and it soon turned into a situation which stopped them from pushing their accelerators to the floor. In the poor visibility, Leeroy drove into a hole, losing about 2 minutes. Giniel managed to put up with the dust for 200 km and pressed on.
With an hour between himself and his closest rivals, Yazeed Alrajhi (#305 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa) decided to drive with some degree of caution in order to maintain his overall position. In Yazeed’s first Dakar last year he was in the top ranks, but right towards the end he retired.
The competitors finally headed towards the finish line in Rosario.
On the last day of Dakar 2016, a total of 699 km, which included a 180 km Special Stage (*1). They set their sights on the finish line on Rosario. Just as is the case every year, the final stage is relatively easy in comparison with the prior stages—letting the participants and vehicles cool down. At the finish line Giniel came in overall 3rd place. Already showing enthusiasm towards the next Dakar, Giniel said “I’m so happy. I made a podium finish for my fifth time, but up till now I have only won this rally once.”
Leeroy was determined all the way, and came in 5th place, his personal best. For Yazeed, it was his second Dakar, and he was able to steadily make it to the finish line this time.
All three cars from TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa gave us an impressive performance, and completed Dakar 2016.
[Source: Toyota Global]