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DAKAR 22 - Successful opening week for Toyota Gazoo Racing. Al Attiyah leads, De Villiers 4th.

The 2022 Dakar Rally has reached its mid-point after six competitive stages, with the Rest Day bivouac set near the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh. For TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, the opening week of this year’s rally brought highs and lows, but as it stands, Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel are in the overall lead by 48min 45sec, so the team has every reason to be happy.

Nasser and Mathieu opened their account by winning the short, sharp prologue between Jeddah and Ha’il, giving them the opportunity to choose their starting position for the first stage. They selected the tenth position on the road, and attacked from there. In a stage where many of the top competitors were foiled by tricky navigation, the GR DKR Hilux T1+ crew capitalised and built an early lead. From there, they controlled their pace, driving a measured race, yet winning Stage 4 to further extend their lead.

For Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Dennis Murphy, Dakar 2022 has been a tumultuous affair. Initially, there was doubt about Giniel’s participation due to COVID-19, but after testing negative, the South African made his way to Jeddah and joined the team. Their race started strong, but an incident with a biker in Stage 1B of the race saw them penalised by 5min, putting the brakes on their progress.

The incident with the bike was widely reported on social media, though the details of the incident only emerged some time after. Giniel was penalised, but met with the biker in the bivouac, and the pair agreed that there was no ill intent from Giniel, and that incidents such as these are inherently part of the race. Despite the setback, Giniel and Dennis continued to perform at the highest level.

A second incident, in Stage 2, saw Giniel incur a second, harsh penalty of 5 hours, for allegedly running over the motorcycle of a biker who had crashed behind a dune. The Toyota crew managed to avoid injuring the biker by swerving at the last second, and it was later determined that the system designed to warn the crew in such situations was not operational in Giniel and Dennis’ car, despite the car passing the mandatory scrutineering before the start of the race.

The penalty sent the crew tumbling down the order, and they had to push themselves to continue racing for good stage times. Their perseverance paid off, when the penalty was reversed after an investigation, which meant that the pair were classified in 4th place at the mid-point, just 1min 31sec behind third place, and 3min 2sec behind second.

For Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings, the first week of the 2022 Dakar Rally brought both immeasurable highs and lows. The pair performed well in the prologue, posting the 4th-fastest time. They started Stage 1B at a good pace, but a disaster after changing a wheel mid-stage saw the wheel studs sheer off their Toyota Hilux, leaving them to affect running repairs that cost them 3 hours.

They bounced back in Stage 3, posting the fastest time for more than 200km of the rally’s longest stage. The South Africans seemed set to win their first Dakar stage, but a cruel twist of fate saw the right rear wheel hub sheer off their car, forcing them to wait for the assistance truck in the desert. They lost six hours as a result, putting them well out of contention for the race.

Stage 5, however, was a dream stage for Henk and Brett. Despite the driver’s door malfunctioning, and suffering two punctures, the crew set the fastest pace on the day, recording their maiden stage victory on the Dakar Rally. This meant that they had to open the road on Stage 6, which again proved tricky, and saw them lose a further 24min to the stage winners. Despite this, the crew remain in good spirits, and will push on to record more competitive stage times in the second week of the rally.

The final TOYOTA GAZOO Racing pairing of Shameer Variawa and Danie Stassen started their Dakar 2022 campaign with a run of bad luck. There may also have been an element of nerves early on, especially for co-driver Danie, taking part in his first Dakar Rally.

But as is typical of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing crews, the pair fought on despite their setbacks, and clawed their way back into the Top 20 of the rally by the mid-point. A highlight for them was the final stage leading up to the Rest Day, which saw them post the best time of all TOYOTA GAZOO Racing crews. They went 7th-fastest on the day, and moved up to 17th in the overall standings.

Dakar 2022 consists of twelve competitive stages, with the Rest Day coming after the first six of these. The technical crews use the Rest Day to repair any problems with the cars, but also to replace any worn parts as a precaution. The twin turbo-charged 3.5 litre V6 engine from the new GR Sport Land Cruiser is used in production form, and as such has proven highly reliable during the race. With only slight modifications to the cooling system, this engine is identical to that found in the production car, and since the rules do not allow for more power output than that delivered by the standard engine, the team can utilise the highly reliable production engine without placing undue stress on it.

The new GR DKR Hilux T1+ also uses larger tyres of 37 inches, which have proven significantly tougher than the 32-inch tyres used in the past. Not only can the drivers traverse tougher terrain at higher speeds, but they also gained confidence as a result of the bigger tyre’s ability to absorb impacts. Overall, the team has suffered significantly fewer punctures than during the 2021 Dakar Rally, and this is reflected in the stage times set by all four crews.

Six stages remain in the 2022 Dakar Rally, with the crews departing from Riyadh on January 9th to start the final trek. First up is Stage 7, from Riyadh to Al Dawadimi – a long stage of over 700km, including a timed section of 402km. The rally is scheduled to finish on January 14th, in the city of Jeddah.