Torrential rain and flooded rivers turned the final stage of the first week of the Dakar Rally into something of a lottery, but this did not stop the South African/German duo of Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz from successfully defending the third place overall they established in their Imperial Toyota Hilux on the fourth day of the race.
It appears this decision is being contested by some competitors and teams and the current results are subject to confirmation.
The stage was won by Guerlain Chicherit and Jean-Pierre Garcin of France in a two-wheel drive SMG Buggy. De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz were among those who were unable to cross the river.
Current official overall results place Frenchmen Stephane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret, who have led from stage two in a four-wheel drive diesel Mini, in the lead after 18 hr 31 min 4 sec of racing since the Dakar started in Lima, Peru, on January 5.
The Qatari/Spanish combination of Nasser Al-Attiyah and Lucas Cruz are second in a two-wheel drive petrol Buggy, 3 min 14 secbehind.
De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz are 44 min 3 sec in arrears and 4 min 51 sec ahead of fourth-placed Russians Leonid Novitskiy and Konstantin Zhiltsov in another Mini.
Whatever way the officials decide De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz will remain third overall in their proudly South African four-wheel drive petrol Hilux, with the gap to the first and second cars and to the fourth car depending on the final decision.
The top three drivers are all former winners of the Dakar, Peterhansel having won in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2012, Al-Attiyah in 2011 and De Villiiers in 2009.
All are competing in the T1 class for Improved Cross Country Vehicles. Peterhansel and Cottret are first in the four-wheel drive diesel class, Al-Attiyah and Cruz lead the two-wheel drive petrol class and De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz are the front runners in the four-wheel drive petrol class.
Sunday is a rest day and the race will resume on Monday with another tough stage over 293 kilometres San Miguel de Tucuman and Cordoba in Argentina before it finishes in Santiago, Chile, on January 20.
For now, it’s a welcome respite from the hardships of the 8 500-kilometre marathon and a time to rest weary bodies and battered machines and prepare for the second week.
“It was quite a challenging stage!” said De Villiers.“It went well for us.We started fifth and overtook Nasser whenhesuffered a puncture.Then we reached a river which was totally flooded.
It was impossibleto cross. We heard from the organisers that the rest of the stage was neutralised and that the result would be taken as at Check Point 2. A pity, as we were having a good run and would probably have been able to make up a bit moretime by the end.”
The Toyota Imperial South Africa Team set out from Lima a week ago with two Imperial Toyota Hilux 4x4s, the second South African-built bakkie in the hands of 2012 national off road champions Duncan Vos and Rob Howie.
Competing in their second Dakar – they were 10th overall in their debut in 2011 in an Imperial Toyota Hilux – they were forced to withdraw from the race on race.
Lying 12th overall after the first two stages, they rolled their Hilux after cresting a high sand dune too quickly and damaged the roll cage. They completed the stage, but were unable to continue for safety reasons.
“It’s been a tough and hectic week,” said team manager Glyn Hall. “Giniel and Dirk have had a very good run so far and we’re in a good position to challenge for a podium position in Santiago on January 20.
Duncan and Rob were unlucky to go out the way they did. They could have continued if the roll cage hadn’t been damaged, but the rules do not allow this.
Calling Sunday a rest day is a bit of a misnomer as it’s anything but for the technical team. We’ll be stripping down Hilux #301 and checking everything and replacing components where necessary.
We still have another tough week of racing ahead of us before we can say we conquered the Dakar again.”