The Dakar Reaches a Crucial Moment: Final Stages Determine Podium Candidates

The overall ranking is like a dance: it can change after every song. With yesterday’s cancellation of the “Super Belén”, today’s stage towards San Juan was tremendously decisive. What might have been the most difficult stage of the rally, could arguably be the most exciting one as it comes to this year’s podium candidates. With three Toyota driver’s, Giniel in the #302 in 6th, Conrad in the #320 in 7th and Nani in the #305 coming in 10th, all finishing again within the top ten, the podium is still a possibility.

Today’s special stage was another tough one. The heat is back, a lot of dust and tons of rocks. The distance was long making navigation tough. “It was a very challenging stage”, TGRSA driver Giniel de Villiers #302 said. “The stage went ok, although many of us got lost a couple of times. For the two final stages we’ll see what happens.” According to his navigator, Dirk von Zitzewitz, there were so many rocks and bushes, it was difficult to see and difficult to choose a path. “The stage today was intense. I feel the road book is not accurate enough, it needs to be more precise. I like a difficult track, but I need a good road book.”

“…Like the lottery”

A decisive “trail” section was part of this stage, which demanded perfect driving performance and technical finesse. Overdrive Toyota driver Conrad Rautenbach #320, felt the vehicle was strong. “The first part was very difficult; lots of water, no clear roads, so we got lost many times. With temperatures in the car over 45 degrees, even with air conditioning, it was tough.” For Conrad, only one goal was most important: “I need to finish. But when the stage is open and if the possibility occurs, we will try to push a little.” Conrad proved his determination by pushing onward despite have a rear tire blowout during the stage. Overdrive Toyota driver’s Nani Roma and his navigator Alex Hard Bravo, #305, got lost too. “It was like the lottery today. We had no reference at all”, Alex said. “We only have a chance to get on the podium if Peugeot makes a mistake.” Nani: “The road book is not accurate, but there are still drivers who don’t get lost. You need luck too.” And for Overdrive Toyota driver Erik van Loon #310, the race gave him mixed feelings. “The first part was tough, the second part went well. Tomorrow is a new day: we will try to go full speed to regain some lost time.”

For Toyota, these final days are the last chance to get to finish and the podium. Until now it wasn’t the vehicles who let the competitors down. Most of the circumstances were external as it comes to shortening and cancelling stages. Now the Toyota teams have to conquer the Dakar and their opponents in a shorter period of time. For TLC driver’s Christian Lavieille #327 and Akira Miura #332, today’s race went very good. Again, Akira managed to cross the finish in 1st place and Christian in 2nd place. They are definitely on their way to the podium in Buenos Aires with their reliable Land Cruisers.

Awaiting the competitors tomorrow: the San Juan dunes, which will come in the first 50 km of the special stage towards Rio Cuarto. Those who best handle pitching and sliding their vehicles will be right at home on the tracks of the Córdoba region.

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