- Rain, more rain – and then… it rained even more
- Which, of course, meant mud, mud, and more mud
- Which led to today’s Stage 7 stage being shortened
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA – With the first half of Dakar 2017 done and it was time for the race crews to relax on the so-called ‘rest day’ of the 12-stage race. While the driving crews took a break Sunday is always one of the busiest days on the race for the technical crews.
Saturday’s stage was cancelled because heavy rain made the route impassable and flooded the overnight bivouac so, instead, here’s a wrap of the race stages so far, especially for the South African Toyota team…
STAGE 1: Dakar 2017 started well for the racing Hilux bakkies. Nasser Al-Attiyah, twice a winner of the Dakar but driving for the first time for Toyota, set a hot pace and won the largely ceremonial but nevertheless position-setting short race. He and navigator Mathieu Baumel took an early lead while team mates Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz were fifth.
STAGE 2: Resistencia to San Miguel de Tucuman was also good for Al-Attiyah, who narrowly missed winning again through a navigation error, posting second-fastest time, but saw the outright lead go to Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot).
De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz were fourth-fastest and finished fourth overall.
STAGE 3: From San Miguel de Tucuman to Jujuy in northern Argentina. It was a defining drive for Toyota Racing SA. The stage started well, especially for Al-Attiyah/Baumel who by midway had regained the race lead, but then disaster struck and, later, would put them out of the event.
WHAT A STAGE!
Near the end of the 364km stage the Hilux hit a large hole, ripping off the right rear wheel and destroying the suspension assembly there. It was end of their race but De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz also lost time by getting lost but kept their position until the final section of the stage when falling fuel-pressure halted their charge and slid them back by 36 minutes.
STAGE 4: The race headed for Jujuy for Tupiza. Bolivia, a stage distance of 521km. Of that, 416 km were covered as the special stage, which started at 4300m altitude, before finishing around the 3400m mark. And what a stage it was!
This stage was an opportunity recover from the disastrous previous day but De Villiers reported a tough start: stuck in sand dunes which the crew said were “some of the softest we’ve ever seen”. Then came two consecutive punctures; navigation was also a challenge on the day and the Hilux finished the stage sixth and seventh overall.
Nani Roma and Alex Haro Bravo in another SA-built Hilux being raced by Overdrive Racing were the fastest Toyota crew on the day: third-fastest time on a stage won by Peugeot’s Cyril Despres. Roma/Bravo restricted lost time behind Despres to 12min51 and were fifth place overall.
Stage 5: The first full day in Bolivia with a race stage of 447km between Tupiza to Oruro but severe weather added to the challenge with the stage shortened to just half-distance. Roma/Bravo again flew the flag for Toyota, second on the stage and 0min44 behind stage-winner Sebastien Loeb.
PROVISIONAL STANDINGS AFTER LEG 6:
1 PETERHANSEL Stéphane (FRA) / COTTRET J-P. (FRA), Peugeot 3008DKR, 14hr2min58
2 LOEB Sébastien (FRA) / ELENA Daniel (MON), Peugeot 3008DKR, +1min09
3 DESPRES Cyril (FRA) / David CASTERA (FRA), Peugeot 3008DKR, +4min54
4 ROMA Nani (ESP) / HARO Bravo (ESP), Toyota Hilux, +5min35
5 HIRVONEN Mikko (FIN) / PERIN Michel (FRA), Mini, +42min21
Loeb said at the flooded bivouac outside Oruro: “We had a very good stage – the Hilux handled the conditions perfectly. Had it not been for a navigation error near the end of the stage were might have won.”
Roma/Bravo had closed to within 28sec of Loeb before taking a wrong turn but their navigation trouble was nothing compared with that experienced by most others on Stage 5. Miko Hirvonen (Mini) lost 42 minutes; De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz lost close to 30 behind winner Loeb.
Stage 6: Cancelled.
De Villiers told The Corner through a media release: “Navigation was extremely tricky. We lost a lot of time and the weather caused havoc until the organisers shortened the route significantly.”
De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz were eighth, 1hr08min11 behind rally leader Stephane Peterhansel (Peugeot). Roma/Bravo held on to fourth, 05min35 behind the leader.
“The Oruro bivouac,” our report from South America said, “will be one for the history books. Incessant rain flooded the sandy area and the entire bivouac became a quagmire, even had to be closed to teams for a while with many vehicles stuck inside.”
RACE IS ONLY HALF-DONE
That, and more rain, cancelled Stage 6 and gave crews an extra ‘rest day’ by not racing to Bolivia’s capital, La Paz. The actual rest day, Sunday, was an opportunity for the technical crews to strip and repair the Toyota Hilux race vehicles, and prepare them for the the next six stages.
Only half the race is done – there’s a very long way to go before the 2017 Dakar finishes in Buenos Aires on Saturday January 14. Indeed, Gazoo Toyota team Glyn Hall told The Corner from the muddy bivouac at La Paz: “It’s called a rest day but for the rest of the team it is a day of frantic activity.
“Conditions here in La Paz don’t make it any easier.”
THE NEXT STAGE
The focus is now on today’s (Monday) Stage 7 whose race section has been shortened to 161km and end, as does one stage in every Dakar, with team assistance on servicing allowed. Hall explained:
“This is a critical stage. We aren’t allowed into the bivouac in Uyuni – the drivers and navigators have to do basic servicing themselves. It’s a heart-in-the-mouth situation – we’re powerless to help if anything goes wrong. We do, however, have Rob Howie navigating for Conrad Rautenbach, putting him in the bivouac with the other Toyota crews.
“Rob is the chief fabricator of our race vehicles so knows then intimately. His presence in Uyuni could prove invaluable.”
Stage 7 – today: Will cover 622km, including the short 161km section The route’s altitude remains high until the race crosses back into Argentina.