DE VILLIERS/VON ZITZEWITZ 4TH OVERALL, POULTER/HOWIE, 33RD,ONE STAGE REMAININGJan 19, 2014
With just the 157-kilometre final special stage of the 2014 Dakar Rally remaining on Saturday and 4 753 kilometres of racing section behind them, South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and German co-driver Dirk on Zitzewitz (Toyota Imperial Hilux) are in fourth position overall after completing Friday’s 360-kilometre penultimate special stage between El Salvador and La Serena in Chile in fourth place.
It was a fine effort by the 2009 champions to close in on a third successive podium finish in the world’s longest and toughest motor race after a 14-day race across Argentina and Chile that has included 13 special stages and a 4 900-metre crossing of the Andes Mountains since the start in Rosario in Argentina on January 5. The race finishes in Valparaiso on Saturday.
They made up a place in the general classification after starting Friday’s stage in fifth position behind the Minis of Nani Roma (Spain)/Michel Perin (France), defending champions Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean Paul Cottret (France), Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar)/Lucas Cruz (Spain) and Orlando Terranova (Argentina)/Paulo Fiuza (Portugal).
Peterhansel/Cottret lead overall from Roma/Perin by just 26 seconds. Al-Attiyah/Cruz are third, 54m 07s in arrears, with De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz 1h 21m 13s behind the leaders and 6m 44s ahead of Terranova/Fiuza.
Peterhansel/Cottret won Friday’s stage ahead of Al-Attiyah/Cruz and Roma/Perin and assumed the overall lead from team-mates Roma/Perin to put them in line for a third successive victory. Terranova/Fiuza had navigational problems in the sand dunes towards the end of the stage and finished ninth, which allowed the South African/German duo, who had a clean run, to take advantage.
While the final stage is usually relatively short – it is the shortest of this year’s Dakar – and regarded as a ceremonial run to the finish with little change in the top order, this is not the case this year.
"It’s not over yet,” said De Villiers. “Saturday’s stage is twisty and very technical. It won’t be a walk in the park. Anything can happen as we saw today with Terranova losing time in the dunes.
“”We were aiming for a clean stage today and this is what we got. We tried to stay with the Minis, but it just wasn’t possible. We lost maybe three or four minutes as a result of our shock absorbers going hard at the beginning of the stage.”
“We did a good job in the dunes today, which contributed to our improving our overall position,” commented Von Zitzewitz. “We’ll need a bit of luck to finish on the podium on Saturday. You never know what might happen.” .
Team-mates Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie have shown great courage and determination after experiencing the highs and lows of the Dakar in Poulter’s first attempt, from achieving their first podium on stage three to having to wait hours for their assistance truck and falling to the back of the field.
They have fought back with gutsy performances in the past four days to start the final stage in 33rdposition after finishing Friday’s stage in 23rd position. “It’s been a sobering experience,” admitted Howie, who is competing in his third Dakar. “There’s a lot of action when you start so far back. We’ve kept our heads down and just concentrated on chipping away at the deficit. Our aim tomorrow is to keep out of trouble, pick up as many places as we can and be there at the finish.”
South African privateers Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr in the ex-Toyota Motorsport Hilux finished the penultimate stage just 31 seconds behind Poulter and Howie in 24th place and start the final stage in a very creditable 26th place overall.
Saturday’s stage 13 from La Serena to Valparaiso presents the survivors with the opportunity to experience the pride and joy of completing the Dakar Rally, an achievement in itself. Even this close to the finish vigilance is their best ally. For the first time in the history of the Dakar there will be a night podium ceremony in which the successful competitors will be presented to the thousands of spectators and millions of television viewers around the world.
The first car leaves the overnight bivouac at 08:54 (13:54 SA time) on a 22-kilomtre liaison, followed by a 157-kilometre racing section and a final 256-kilometre liaison to the finish in Valparaiso. The first car is expected at 17:00 (22:00).
Toyota Motorsport South Africa Acknowledges Its Dakar Sponsors, Specialist Official Suppliers and Technical Partners
Toyota, Imperial Toyota Group, Duxbury Netgear, Innovation Group, Toyota Financial Services, SAA Cargo, Blue Sky, Bosch, Castrol, DeWalt, Donaldson, Edgecam, 4x4 Mega World, Hallspeed, Mastercraft, NGK, Oakley, SKF, Spanjaard, Sparco and TFM.