“The marathon stages are always a nervous time – not just for us, but for everyone competing on the Dakar. Making it to the halfway mark without problems eases the pressure a little.”
Glyn Hall, Team Principal: Toyota Gazoo Racing SA
UYUNI, BOLIVIA – Stage 7 of Dakar 2018 served as the so-called Marathon Stage of the event – a 425 km test at high altitude, with no service crews to assist after the stage. As an unsupported stage, the race crews had to service and repair their own vehicles in preparation for Stage 8, which will take them to the Bolivian city of Tupiza.
“Thankfully all three our crews reported largely clean runs on the stage to Uyuni,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall from the bivouac at Tupiza. “We’ve been in contact with them, and it seems the biggest problem of the day was Bernhard’s wiper motor.”
Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke, partnered with French navigator Michel Périn, was the seventh car on the road for Stage 7, and they were in third place in the general rankings after the first six stages. But the marathon stage bit hard, as they experienced problems with the wiper motor switch.
“The thick mud on the stage really caused problems for us, because we couldn’t clear the windscreen,” explained Ten Brinke from Uyuni. “To make matters worse, we ended up stuck in a ditch for a while, since we couldn’t see where we were going.”
The pair were helped out of their predicament by fellow Toyota Hilux crew Lucio Alvarez and Rob Howie, and were soon back on the road. However, their misfortune cost them 31:33 to stage-winner and new rally leader, Carlos Sainz (Peugeot). They are currently in fifth place in the general rankings.
The rankings saw a big shuffle, however, as Peugeot’s Stephané Peterhansel ran into difficulties midway through the stage. The French driver damaged the rear suspension of his race car, and had to make running repairs. This cost him 01:45:00, pushing the former race leader down to third place in the general rankings.
Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel posted the third-fastest time on Stage 7, some fourteen minutes behind Sainz. But with Peterhansel no longer in the lead of the rally, this allowed the Qatari driver to move into second place in the general rankings.
“It was a pretty good day for us,” said Al Attiyah after the stage. “But we did get stuck on some camel grass for a while, and had a puncture after that – so it could still have gone better. Even so we are happy to have moved into second place.”
Best of the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s crews on Stage 7 were Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz, who posted the second-fastest time – just 12:05 behind Sainz. This moves De Villiers into fourth place in the general rankings, just eight seconds behind Peterhansel, who now finds himself in third place.
“It was a much tougher stage than we expected,” said De Villiers from Uyuni. “But we had a clean run, and we’re happy to have made it safely to Uyuni. We don’t have much to do tonight in terms of prepping the car for Stage 8, which is exactly what we wanted for the marathon stage.”
Stage 8 is up next, and takes the crews to the Bolivian city of Tupiza, where they will be reunited with their service crews. The stage is 585 km in total, which includes a liaison of 87 km and racing stage of 498 km. The stage consists of a mix of surfaces, including 15% sand and nearly 80% gravel tracks.
“We’re still racing at well over 4,000 metres altitude,” concluded Hall, “so keeping up with the Peugeots remains a challenge. But we saw today that the Dakar still has a lot of bite in it, and we’ll just do our best to push whenever we can.”
The 2018 Dakar Rally has now reached its mid-point, with seven of the 14 stages to go. The race finishes in the Argentine city of Cordoba on 20 January 2018.