Another day on the Dakar, another crossing of the Andes… Stage 10 saw the crews move from the dustbowl of Calama in Chile, across the Andes and down to the lush forests of Salta in Argentina. Along the way they also competed in a testing, 358 km special stage – one that will remain etched in the memory of Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie for a very long time.
The Toyota Imperial Hilux pairing started the day in 18th position overall, and pulled away as the 37th car on the stage (starting positions are determined by the results of the previous stage, not overall rally standings). This placed them behind not only a mass of other competitors in the car categories, but also behind five massive racing trucks, which are notoriously difficult to pass.
“We just had one of those rare, clean runs on the Dakar,” said an elated Poulter from the nearly flooded bivouac at Salta. “We overtook all five trucks and thirteen cars on the special – and when we finished we had recorded the 4th fastest time on the stage. This puts us in a great starting position for tomorrow, just ahead of Giniel and Dirk.”
While overall rally leader Nasser Al-Attiyah (MINI) won the stage, with teammate Orlando Terranova second, it was a veritable Toyota armada that followed them home. Fastest of the trio was Saudi privateer Yazeed Alrahji in a sister-car to the two Toyota Imperial Hiluxes. He was 47s faster through stage 10 than Poulter/Howie (#327), who in turn pipped De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz (#303) by 18s.
“It was a good day all round for the team,” said Team Principal Glyn Hall after the stage. “Leeroy and Rob drove an amazing stage to go fourth-fastest, and Giniel and Dirk did enough to keep some pressure on Nasser, despite difficulties of their own.”
The pair arrived at the start of the stage without any problems, but when Giniel fastened his racing harness he found that one of the locating pins had misaligned. He managed to fasten the belts okay, but had a nagging worry about the integrity of his belts throughout the stage.
“Today’s stage was long and tricky, with many traps to catch you out,” explained De Villiers after completing Stage 10. “To take it on while worrying about your own safety just makes it so much harder, and I couldn’t shake that feeling.”
De Villiers’ concerns were proved to be valid when last year’s winner, and fastest man on Stage 9, Nani Roma (MINI) crashed out today in spectacular fashion. The Spainard hit an unmarked ditch in the road at high speed, and rolled his race vehicle to destruction. Both crew members emerged unhurt, but it illustrates how even the best in the game can fall foul of the vagaries of the Dakar.
Tomorrow’s stage is somewhat shorter, though there are still many pitfalls along the way. At 194 km in length, this will be one of the shorter tests on Dakar 2015, and will see the Dakar move from Salta to Termas Rio Hondo. This will be stage 11 of 13, and while the distance may be shorter, fatigue may yet play a role. After so many consecutive days of racing, there is nobody on the Dakar that isn’t tired to the bone. But then it wouldn’t be the Dakar if it was easy.