Dakar Rally is NOT for sissies!
It is difficult to appreciate the enormity of the challenge facing the Imperial Toyota South Africa Team and the other competitors on the annual Dakar Rally, which takes place in South America in January.
From January 1 to 15, some 465 drivers and riders will start the 33rd edition of the world’s longest and toughest motor race will compete against each other over a total distance of some 8 300km from the Argentine coastal resort city of Mar del Plata, over the Andes Mountains into Chile and to the finish in Lima, the capital of Peru.
Apart from a rest day on January 8 in Copiapo, in the heart of Chile’s Atacama Desert, the participants will be competing every day.
Among the 171 cars entered (there are also 185 motorcycles, 76 trucks and 33 quads) will be Toyota Motorsport’s two Toyota Hilux V8 double cab pickups, backed by Imperial Toyota, Duxbury Netgear and the Innovation Group and crewed by 2009 Dakar Rally winner Giniel de Villiers and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz and four time SA champion Duncan Vos and Rob Howie.
The route consists of a combination of liaison or link stages and timed special stages.
The link stages, totalling some 4 100km, follow the normal road network which the competitors must take to reach the start of the special stage, or the overnight bivouac once the special stage has been completed.
The 14 daily special stages will cover some 4 200km of racing in the toughest of conditions imagineable.
They will encounter river crossings, narrow mountain tracks, camel grass, the white sand dunes of Fiambala in Argentina and Copiapo in Chile, volcanic grey sand dunes along the Andes Mountains, a high-altitude crossing of the Andes from Argentina into Chile at 4 700m above sea level, extreme temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius in the dry and arid Atacama Desert in Chile, spectacular canyons and dry river beds.
The longest is stage nine over 557km on January 10 between Antofagasta and Iquique in Chile and the shortest is the 29km final stage 14 on January 15 between Pisco and Lima in Peru.
“Most of the special stages are equivalent to a single round of the Absa South African Off Road Championship,” observes Imperial Toyota team manager Glyn Hall. “It’s a massive challenge, for the drivers and co-drivers, the vehicles and the support crew.
“While the competitors are tackling the daily stage the support crew consisting of myself, the engineers and the technicians will go straight to the end of the stage, where we will meet the cars as they complete the stage and debrief the crews.
“Once we reach the overnight bivouac and service area the cars will be thoroughly checked and repairs made where necessary.
“While we try to get everybody into bed at a reasonable hour, problems encountered during the day’s stage can result in late nights.
“Generally, the 20-man support crew is in for a five-hour service stint,” explains Hall.
The competitors are in the cars each day for anything from two-and-a-half to seven hours on the special stage, depending on the length and severity of the stage, and for up to 10 hours with the liaison section.
During the stage the cars are followed by support trucks which carry essential spares and are allowed to render assistance during the race.
This is the only outside assistance the competitors may receive during the event, with the exception of help from a fellow competitor.
“Our support vehicle, which officially competes in the T4 truck class, is a six-wheel drive 600 horsepower truck that will be carrying around 350kg of spares that includes a complete rear axle, gearbox, a corner suspension set, steering rack, radiator and electrical components,” adds Hall.
“In truth, the crews really don’t ever want to see this vehicle as it would mean they’re in serious trouble!”
The rest day in Copiapo on January 8 will give all concerned a chance to catch their breath and regroup, but it remains a busy working day for the support crews.
“The cars will be completely stripped and rebuilt, with new gearbox, suspension and rear axle, and the engine will be serviced,” says Hall.
“The Dakar is not for sissies,” says De Villiers, one of the Dakar’s most successful drivers of the past decade, who has only finished outside the top 10 once in eight events.
“Just to finish is an achievement.”