As Hall has said before: “Winning the Dakar is never easy – there are a lot of people trying. This year’s race was no exception, and brought a rollercoaster of emotions and results for the team.”
The first serious blow came when De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz tumbled down the order and out of contention on Stage 3, after hitting a rock in thick dust. This relegated the 2009 winners to a supporting role; while a similar fate befell Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke and his French navigator, Xavier Panseri just one day later.
“In a sense it was very comforting to have two water carriers supporting Nasser,” said Hall after the race. “But even so, I’d have preferred to have had them challenging for overall positions rather than stage wins.”
Sadly, Ten Brinke / Panseri’s race came to a premature end on Stage 8, when they suffered transmission failure in some of the biggest dunes on this year’s race. This meant that De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz became the sole supporting crew for Al Attiyah / Baumel.
“Obviously we came here to try to win the race,” said De Villiers, who recorded a ninth place in the end. “But once that dream ended, we were happy to support Nasser and Mathieu’s effort. If we couldn’t win it ourselves, the next best thing was for one of our teammates to take the victory, and I am overjoyed at the final result.”
De Villiers, who had only finished outside the Top 10 once in the 15 previous Dakar Rallies he had raced in, clawed his way back up the leaderboard, and found himself in eighth place with just the final stage to go.
“But the organisers ran the final stage in reverse order, and the team decided that Dirk and I needed to wait for Nasser and Mathieu. So, we started the stage, but then pulled over and waited in the dunes,” explained De Villiers. “Luckily our crew had packed two deck chairs for us, so we could watch a bit of racing in comfort.”
The pair waited out the 55 minutes before their teammates launched into the stage, and then followed in close formation. Sadly, this cost De Villiers / Von Zitzewit a place in the overall standings, and they had to settle for ninth in the end. Even so, De Villiers’ Top 10 record remains intact.
For Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, the win in Peru comes as the cherry on top of an amazing Dakar record. “This is the one spot we needed,” said an elated Hall after the dust had settled over the 41st edition of the Dakar. “And it feels amazing to finally win.”
Click here to read the rankings and records from the Rally.