Third at the Dakar – Toyota makes motorsport history

Third place in Car category Giniel de Villiers and Dirk Von Zitzewitz
Third place in Car category Giniel de Villiers and Dirk Von Zitzewitz

Photo by: A.S.O.

Lima/Peru Stop the press! – for a milestone in the history of the Dakar Rally. Giniel de Villiers (Stellenbosch/South Africa), Dirk von Zitzewitz (Karlshof/Germany) and Imperial Toyota have finished third overall at the toughest rally in the world, thus heralding the future of endurance rallies. Armed with their privately run Hilux, which was developed in accordance with new Dakar regulations set to be introduced in the future, they claimed a podium finish against far more powerful opponents at the first attempt – and at the premiere for Imperial Toyota too. For de Villiers/von Zitzewitz this was the third top-three finish at the legendary desert rally since it moved to South America four years ago – no other duo can boast such a successful record on this continent. Their victory in 2009 saw “Ginny” and “Schnietz”, as the friends know each other, herald the era of diesel dominance, which lasted until today. With third place in 2012 they have demonstrated the capabilities of petrol-driven prototypes and future, production-based drive technology. The last time a car run on conventional petrol finished in the top three was in 2009. From 2013 the big favourites and today’s Dakar winners will also use production-based engines, in accordance with Dakar regulations. Imperial Toyota, on the other hand, has already been employing tomorrow's technology this year.

Tough just got tougher – the Imperial Toyota Hilux and the toughest rally in the world

Tough just got tougher: the motto of the Imperial Toyota team from Johannesburg/South Africa not only applied to the Rally Dakar itself, but particularly the capability of its new, robust Hilux prototype. Team Principal Glyn Hall's crew got the V8- powered, 300-hp Hilux up and running in less than 100 days. Together with partner team Overdrive it also organised the complex Dakar logistics and ensured the technology ran reliably and flawlessly whilst actually at the Dakar. They were faced with the toughest Rally Dakar ever: over the 3,892 kilometres of special stages – almost 9,000 kilometres in total – the V8 Hilux demonstrated its stability on a whole host of different terrains. As well as top-speed sections on solid, loamy ground and loose gravel, this year's programme also included hazardous sections in Argentina's Sierras Pampeanas, altitudes of up to 3500 metres above sea level in the foothills of the Andes, tricky-to-navigate routes winding through the rugged, rocky landscape of the canyons, and the towering white dunes of Fiambalá. Having crossed the Andes via the San Francisco Pass in snow and ice, the Dakar scenery changed dramatically: the rocky Atacama Desert presented the teams with new challenges in the form of huge amounts of dust and powdery guadal sand, and extremely soft dunes. The third country on the way to the finish – Peru, uncharted territory for the Dakar – also threw up its own unique and new challenges. The small but nasty dunes with their fine, soft sand, in particular, had even the favourites struggling. The Dakar remained true to its South American character in Peru: every single day presented the competitors with extremely varied terrain that could change within a matter of kilometres. Through all this, one thing remained tougher than tough: the Imperial Toyota Hilux.

Clever and case-hardened – de Villiers/von Zitzewitz and their own strengths

Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz formed a perfect combination with the reliable technology. The South African and his German navigator arrived at the start of the Rally Dakar with only 700 kilometres experience at the wheel of the Hilux – most competitors have completed at least ten times that figure. With no real knowledge of the limits, the duo cautiously set about discovering just how far they could push the car. They were particularly level-headed in the overgrown dune sections, asking as little as necessary but as much as possible of the brand-new technology – and with success: they avoided damaging suspension components and drive technology, while their rivals pushed too hard. The 2009 Dakar winners gradually made up ground. Right from the start of the rally they found themselves in the top five – the best they had dared to hope for coming into the desert marathon – even though the hot favourites from the X-raid team – the only semi-works team in the car category at the 2012 Rally Dakar – lined up with five highly-fancied Minis and a strong squad of drivers. “Ginny” and “Schnietz” were always there when it mattered: on the toughest stages, the climax to this year’s Dakar in Peru.

Crowd favourites in a pick-up – great sympathy for the Hilux

The story of Dakar's very own David going up against the mighty Goliath kept the experts, rivals and fans enthralled: starting as a real underdog, the number “301” Hilux pick-up belonging to the South African chain of dealerships Imperial Toyota soon won the hearts of the euphoric crowds. In 2011 five million people lined the Dakar stages in Argentina and Chile. In 2012 the enthusiasm in the new Dakar country of Peru knew no bounds. All three host nations demonstrated incredible hospitality and created a unique and infectious atmosphere, which gave the teams an extra boost of motivation as the Dakar arrived in South America for the fourth time. The opposition also showed great respect for the outstanding performance of the number “301”.

Flawless navigation – Dirk von Zitzewitz and the key to success

In no other motorsport discipline is the co-driver's performance so pivotal in determining between success and failure. While the driver can make up fractions of a second per kilometre, a navigation error can result in minutes can quite literally being lost. A combination of perfect driving style and immaculate navigation allowed Imperial Toyota to claim its best individual result at the Rally Dakar: an inaccurate roadbook caused confusion on the penultimate stage, on which almost all of the top drivers got stuck at least once. The first top co-driver to discover the crucial waypoint and find a way out: Dirk von Zitzewitz, who, in doing so, secured the second fastest time of the day and third place overall

“For me the 2012 Rally Dakar was a step back to my roots. After my touring car career, Glyn Hall's troop was where I started out in off-road racing. I came full circle this year and tried to share all my experience with the team and to help them as much as possible. Our goal is clear: we want to play a major role at the Rally Dakar in the future. None of us expected to achieve such a big success this time round. I cannot say how proud I am of the guys, and also of mine and Dirk's own performance. I think we made our own little piece of history.” Giniel de Villiers after 2012 Dakar Rally

“It is really true! Third place! Only when you actually reach the final time check are you actually relieved of the immense strain of the past few weeks, and it is replaced by a feeling of pure relief and joy. Starting the Rally Dakar as underdogs, a new team, with a new car and production-based technology, the expectations – even your own – are obviously not very high. However, we have far exceeded those expectations. It is thanks to an unbelievably motivated team, in which everyone pulled together and gave absolutely everything. Third place was our fantasy result, and now it is reality. One word: wow!” Dirk von Zitzewitz after 2012 Dakar Rally