Overdrive Racing and Hallspeed-prepared Toyota Hiluxes suffered the disappointment of losing one of their star performers, but maintained second, fifth and seventh overall after the 11th special stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally, between Salta and Termas de Rio Hondo in northern Argentina, on Thursday.
The route had re-crossed the Andes on Wednesday and reached altitudes of 4,972 metres above sea level at Abra del Acay on Argentina’s National Route 40 before the 10th special stage towards Cachi. The leading four Toyotas had reached the end of that special in second, third, sixth and eighth in the general classification.
The surviving 69 cars then took a liaison on Thursday morning to the start of the 194km special stage. A second link section of 142km brought them into Termas de Rio Hondo via the famous Argentine rally town of San Miguel de Tucumán.
South African Giniel De Villiers and co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz have settled into a safe and secure pace to ensure they take no risks and reach the finish in Buenos Aires on Saturday in second position. The duo finished the 11th stage in fourth position and head into the penultimate special of the rally trailing leader Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah by 29min 01sec.
“We had a rather calm day on Wednesday,” admitted De Villiers. “We didn’t push hard after we saw what happened to Joan Roma (accident). It made us realise you can be caught unawares. Nasser’s too far ahead. It makes no sense to take risks. We won’t be able to catch him unless he makes mistakes. It ain’t over yet.”
Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and German co-driver Timo Gottschalk had produced one of the performances of the entire event for the first 10 stages. “Everything is fine with me. I haven’t made any mistakes,” said the impressive Saudi after Wednesday’s stage. “I think it would be very difficult to try and push and take second place from Giniel. Finishing my first Dakar on the podium was beyond my wildest dreams.”
But the Saudi’s dream was soon to end in bitter disappointment. The team reportedly noticed a problem with the Toyota at the bivouac in Salta and the Saudi had not left the service area when the first cars started the day’s stage. Further mechanical problems intervened on the link section and the devastated Saudi driver decided to withdraw just kilometres from the start of the special. It was a sorry end to a superb all-round team performance.
Frenchman Christian Lavieille and his 2002 Dakar Rally-winning co-driver Pascal Maimon were duly promoted to fifth overall in the leading Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux at the start of stage 11 and maintained that position to the finish. They now have a 9min 05sec cushion to the sixth-placed Russian Vladimir Vasilyev.
Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul climbed from ninth to eighth on the 10th stage into Salta at the expense of Portugal’s Carlos Sousa. But 2min 25sec separated the duo at the start of stage 11 and Ten Brinke inherited seventh after Al-Rajhi’s demise. He missed out on the 11th stage win by just 2min 12sec and maintained seventh in Termas de Rio Hondo.
A fourth fastest time for Leeroy Poulter and fellow South African co-driver Robert Howie on stage 10 lifted the Toyota Imperial South African pairing within striking distance of their Overdrive Racing colleagues, Kazakh Bauyrzhan Issabayev and Russian team-mate Vladimir Demyanenko, at the start of the run into Termas de Rio Hondo.
The two drivers began the special in 18th and 17th overall. Poulter recorded the 16th quickest time and was only four minutes behind the stage winner. He now holds 17th, while Issabayev is 16th.
Lithuanian Benediktas Vanagas and his Belarussian navigator Andrei Rudnitski reached Argentina in 24th overall and were running in a superb fourth on the 11th stage after 150km. They eventually recorded a career-best fourth position – just 40 seconds behind stage winner Al-Attiyah – and hold 22nd overall with two days to go.
Pole Marek Dabrowski and Dubai-based British navigator Mark Powell had continued their climb through the field after first week axle problems and began the Argentinean stages from 26th. They climbed to 25th into Salta and now hold 24th.
The French-Canadian duo of David Bensadoun and Patrick Beaulé had been penalised for missing waypoints on the run into Calama and began the 10th stage from 34th overall, although they had climbed to 33rd on Thursday morning. On arrival in Termas de Rio Hondo, they were an unofficial 32nd.
Czech driver Peter Jerie and experienced French co-driver Laurent Lichtleuchter reached Calama in 44th overall and maintained that position into Salta. Jerie is now just outside the top 40.
Tomorrow (Friday), is the penultimate stage of a punishing 2015 Dakar Rally. Crews leave the camp near the Termes de Rio Hondo circuit and embark upon the longest day of the entire rally made up of just 298km of competition and a mammoth 726km of liaison to the overnight halt on the western banks of the Paraná River in the city of Rosario.
The final stage of just 174km is included in a route of 393km on the final section from Rosario to the finish in Buenos Aires on Saturday.