Heat, altitude and dust – good start to week two of the Dakar
Antofagasta/Chile Careful and cautious progress through the Atacama Desert: South African Giniel de Villiers and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz made a solid start to the second week of the Rally Dakar, finishing the day's stage in sixth place. Having started the Dakar as rank outsiders in their Imperial Toyota Hilux, the duo successfully defended fifth place in the overall rankings and continue to exceed all expectations. The section between Copiapó and Antofagasta took the route north through the Atacama Desert. The day was characterised by mud, followed by rocks hidden in the dust and gravel sections, as the participants made their way from the so-called "Small North" to the "Large North" of Chile at altitudes of around 3,000 metres above sea level.
Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz, who won the Dakar together in 2009, took a composed approach on the very stony terrain, in order to avoid damaging the suspension on their privately developed and run Imperial Toyota Hilux. The plan worked out well: the underdogs avoided any unscheduled incidents and performed brilliantly on terrain that did not particularly suit the Hilux due to the number of high-speed sections. "Ginny" and "Schnietz", as the two friends refer to know each other, finished nine minutes behind today's winner Joan "Nani" Roma in the much-fancied X-raid Mini. Hot favourite to win the Dakar, Stéphane Peterhansel, was fourth fastest today and continues to head the overall rankings. Villiers/von Zitzewitz are now 37 minutes behind the leader, almost eight minutes ahead of defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah in his hummer.
We are still trying to push our Hilux to the limit without overdoing it. We are getting there gradually. We can be very happy with sixth place today. A lot of today's stage was straight. That kind of terrain is not exactly ideal for our Hilux. For that reason, I am hoping there will be a few more corners over the coming days – that would allow us to take advantage of our strengths.
-Giniel de Villiers after stage eight of the Dakar Rally
Today's stage was very stony, very bumpy and very uneven. That is tough for the drivers and codrivers, as well as the car. I think we set a good, sensible pace that allowed us to get through the day well. The Hilux was running like clockwork and we once again encountered absolutely no technical problems. We used the rest day to change the set-up slightly and made the chassis harder. The next few days will reveal what effect that has had.
- Dirk von Zitzewitz after stage eight of the Dakar Rally
Preview: Coming up next at the Dakar
10th January 2012, Stage 9, Antofagasta–Iquique Headlong into the finish, full throttle down the Cerro Dragón: the arrival at the finish of the ninth stage of the Dakar in Iquique is a legend in its own right. The competitors in the car category plunge into what is probably the most spectacular finish in motorsport at up to 220 kilometres per hour – although the cars are usually cars flat out at just 190 kilometres per hour on level ground. The extra speed provided by gravity gives the drivers and co-drivers an additional adrenalin boost. Braking is forbidden here, otherwise the car can quickly career out of control. The drop in altitude of around 700 metres to the Pacific is covered in a matter of seconds. Between Antofagasta and Iquique, however, the descent to the bivouac is merely the icing on the cake. The route features an ever-changing combination of dust, dunes, trial sections and gravel, while the high proportion of off-road stretches will have the navigators’ heads in a spin.
Dirk von Zitzewitz: “As you come over the crest of the final dune you are greeted by a view of the Pacific and the bivouac. From that point on you simply attack the slope – a nice reward at the end of an extremely challenging stage. Having said that, it is a potentially hazardous reward – you can easily roll the car on the transverse ruts. If that happens, there is no stopping until you reach the bottom of the dune. It is a long way before you reach the final descent, however: it is easy to lose your way on the longest special stage of the rally. You are literally on tenterhooks all day, as you know that 30 or 40 kilometres of the most challenging dunes await you at the end of the stage.” Special stage: 556 kilometres.