ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – For most people the first day of a new year is a day of rest for the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team it has hard work on final pre-race preparations.
And then there was the ceremonial start here in the Paraguayan capital, Asunción.
The ceremonial start, Toyota says, was a glitzy event with each vehicle being driven or ridden across a raised podium while an announcer read off names and home countries. As ever, the start was attended by many thousands of Dakar fans, but it was not until 8.30pm that the two South African-built Toyota Hilux off-road racing bakkies crossed the line.
South African driver Giniel de Villiers, veteran of many Dakars, told The Corner in a media release: “It’s all part of the build-up but next will be the harsh reality of the race. Stage 1 is a short one but we’ve now reached the point where all that’s left is the race itself.”
De Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz were the third car over the start podium; Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel (#301) crossed two minutes before them. As much as the start ceremony adds to Dakar 2017 in glamour, Toyota told The Corner, each crew is looking forward to getting the short opening stage done.
454km TO GO ON DAY 1
“It is only a short stage on Monday (Jan 2),” said Al-Attiyah from Asunción, “but even so every kilometre is important and we’ll take Stage 1 very seriously.”
The stage will, however, cover 454km even though only 39km will be timed. The balance will be a ‘liaison’ drive that will take the crews to the start of the stage and then on to the first bivouac at Resistencia in northern Argentina.
The SA Toyota team’s principal, Glyn Hall, told The Corner: “It may be a fairly gentle introduction to the race but don’t let that fool you. The crews will start Stage 2 based on their performance during the opening stage so won’t want to slide too far down the order.
“Winning the opener isn’t that important – what is is to jostle for a good road position on Stage 2.”
Stage 1 will start at 11:03 local time (five hours behind South Africa), but the first crews are only expected in the overnight bivouac around 4.30pm. During that time there will be the opening stage, a border crossing from Paraguay (the country’s first participation in the event) into to the more familiar territory of Argentina.