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Setting the pace


SA Toyota Hilux's crew of Al Attiyah and Baumel heading for Dakar Rally glory

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South Africa’s Toyota Hilux crew of Nasser Al Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel stamped their authority on the Dakar Rally yet again yesterday with a Stage 9 win in Pisco, Peru, to consolidate their claim for the Dakar 2019 championship.

They now lead the overall standings by 51:27 over Mini’s Nani Roma and Alex Haro with victory assured in the final stage provided there are no last-day disasters.

It was also a good day for Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz who finished in third position on Stage 9.

But then the Dakar Rally threw a curveball that decimated the chasing pack. “Mr Dakar”, Stephane Peterhansel was forced to retire after his navigator, David Castera, injured his back when their Mini suffered a hard landing after a jump.

Then Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot), who had been on a charge over the past three stages, lost a mass of time after getting stuck early in the stage.

He lost more time working on his car but managed to complete the stage just over an hour behind Al Attiyah. This moves him down to third in the overall standings.

At the same time, Mini driver Cyril Despres and navigator Jean-Paul Cottret rolled their car in the dunes, again shuffling the middle order.

To make matters even more interesting, 2018 champion Carlos Sainz (Mini) didn’t start the stage after his car suffered transmission failure.

“In the end, the stage played right into our hands,” said an elated Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, after the two Toyota Hilux crews made it safely to the bivouac at Pisco.

“But Nasser and Giniel stuck to our own game plan, and delivered exactly what we needed – two cars home with no problems, a healthy lead and just one stage to go.”

Stage 9 started with the cars going off in groups of four, and Al Attiyah was paired with Loeb, Roma and teammate De Villiers.

The Qatari driver didn’t allow himself to be baited, despite starting alongside two of his closest challengers, and drove the stage at his own, measured pace.

Even so, the Toyota Hilux crew set the fastest time on the day, beating Roma to the finish by nearly five minutes. De Villiers and navigator Von Zitzewitz finished the stage in third place, 02:17 behind Roma.

“We had a really good, clean stage today,” said Al Attiyah after reaching the bivouac at Pisco. “It was a great comfort to me to know that Giniel and Dirk were following us closely. As we saw today, anything can happen on the Dakar.”

This brings Al Attiyah and Baumel’s Stage win tally for Dakar 2019 to three and sees the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew head to the final stage with an advantage of 51:27 over Mini’s Roma and Haro.

“It is difficult to focus on anything beyond Nasser and Mathieu leading the rally with one stage to go,” said Hall.

“But the reality is that we now have four of our South African-built Toyota Hilux race cars in the Top 10, including Giniel who is up to 8th.”

With Stage 9 done and dusted, all that remains of Dakar 2019 is a relatively short stage of 112km, which will start and finish at the bivouac in Pisco.

The stage will be run in reverse order, with the last of the crews going off first before the leaders take to the sands for the final time.

Once the stage is complete, the crews will drive the last liaison of the event back to the Peruvian capital of Lima, where the cars will enter parc ferme until the podium ceremony later in the evening.

“But don’t let the short stage fool you,” cautioned Hall. “We saw today how fickle the Dakar can be – so we’ll be holding our breath until the Hilux is safely out of the stage.

“With that said, we’re doing everything we can to make sure both Nasser and Giniel’s cars are well-prepared for the final stage. Beyond that, all we can do is hope that the crews come through without any major problems.”

Stage 9 results

Al Attiyah / Baumel (Toyota) Winners

Roma / Haro (Mini) +04:58

De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz (Toyota) +07:15

Przygonski / Colsoul (Mini) +14:01

Vanagas / Rozwadowski (Toyota) +15:45

Prokop / Tomanek (Ford) +32:59

Al Rajhi / Gottschalk (Mini) +33:25

Despres / Cottret (Mini) +39:46

Van Loon / Scholtalbers (Toyota) +45:56

Krotov / Tsyro (Mini) +46:42

Overall standings

Al Attiyah / Baumel (Toyota)Leaders

Roma / Haro (Mini) +51:27

Loeb / Elena (Peugeot) +02:02:37

Przygonski / Colsoul (Mini) +02:33:51

Despres / Cottret (Mini) +02:55:13

Prokop / Tomanek (Ford) +03:29:06

Al Rajhi / Gottschalk (Mini) +04:28:22

De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz (Toyota) +07:08:16

Chabot / Pillot (Toyota) +08:11:46

Vanagaz / Rozwadowski (Toyota) +08:15:26.

African News Agency (ANA),