Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz and their Imperial Toyota Hilux enjoyed a trouble-free run in the seventh stage of the Dakar Rally between Calama in Chile and Salta in Argentina on Friday, completing the relatively short 218-kilometre timed section in fifth place and strengthening their third place in the general classification after the first week of the 8 500-kilometre race. They continue to lead the four-wheel drive petrol T1.1 class in their proudly South African bakkie.

#301 Toyota: Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz
#301 Toyota: Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

It was another day successfully completed by the 2009 Dakar winners, a day that started in the small hours as the Dakar crossed into Argentina over the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 4 900 metres. The stage was fast and simple for much of the way, with mostly tracks and little off road driving, the leading cars reaching speeds of around 150 km/h before slowing for a twisty, technical section with some rocks towards the end.

French duo Stephane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret in a four-wheel drive diesel Mini won their second special stage of the 2013 Dakar to increase their slim lead over the Qatari/Spanish combination of Nasser Al-Attiyah and Lucas Cruz in a two-wheel drive petrol Buggy to 3 min 14 sec. De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz are a further 40 minutes in arrears, but have opened up the gap to fourth-placed Leonid Novitskiy and Konstantin Zhiltsov in another Mini to nearly five minutes.

De Villiers: “We got through the special stage well today and conceded a surprisingly small amount of time to the diesel cars. They have a physical advantage at that kind of altitude. The second part of the stage was narrow and winding – rather like stages in the World Rally Championship. Just one tough stage on Saturday and we’ll be having a very welcome rest day on Sunday.“

Von Zitzewitz: “Today’s stage was very encouraging ahead of the next few stages. We looked good on this kind of ‘special’ and go into the coming WRC-style stages fully motivated. This will give us the opportunity to do well.“

Saturday’s stage is between Salta and San Miguel de Tucuman in Argentina and will cover a total of 849 kilometres – the longest stage of the first week of the race. The cars will first complete a 379-kilometre liaison section before tackling the day’s 470-kilometre special stage. There are two timed sections with a variety of scenery – canyons and cacti and the beautiful, natural Argentinian landscape for 150 kilometres. During the second half of the timed section, which will take place in a region completely unknown to the Dakar, the contrast will be apparent on the sandy and sometimes tricky tracks. Wind combined with high temperatures which typically ravage the region could make life difficult. The rest day in San Miguel de Tucuman on Sunday will rarely have been more deserved.

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