Dakar: mixed results for Toyota Gazoo

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Stage 8 of Dakar 2016 brought mixed results for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, though all three Toyota Hilux race vehicles made it safely through the tough, 393 km route between the Argentine city of Salta and the town of Belén. The stage was eventually won by Nasser Al-Attiyah (MINI), though the big news for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA was that Leeroy Poulter and navigator Rob Howie (#319) moved up into 5th place overall.

The pair posted the 8th-fastest time on Stage 8, despite getting stuck in the dust of slower competitors who started the stage ahead of them. At the same time, they were promoted by two positions today, after Peugeot’s Sebastien Loeb crashed near the end of the stage. The Frenchman managed to complete the stage, despite his car suffering significant damage. He lost 01:05:16 on today’s stage, and dropped down to 8th overall as a result.

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Poulter/Howie unfortunately gained another place when teammates Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz (#301) got stuck on a clump of camel grass. The pair were pushing hard, and though they had a puncture earlier in the stage, were posting very  competitive sector times. They were looking for a point to drive into a dry riverbed, however, when they realised the bank was too steep. They reversed a short distance, and unfortunately ended up with all four wheels off the ground, stuck on the camel grass.

“It was such a simple mistake, but these things happen,” said a rueful De Villiers from the bivouac at Belén. “We lost the best part of twenty minutes extricating the Hilux, which is extremely frustrating.”

The pair dropped down to 7th in the overall standings, and are now 54:49 behind race leader Stéphane Peterhansel (Peugeot). They are also just 30 seconds behind teammates Yazeed al Rajhi and navigator Timo Gottschalk (#305), currently in 6th overall.

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“Yazeed and Timo had a reasonable day today,” said Team Principal Glyn Hall after the stage. “They suffered two punctures and had a problem with their clutch, but they still managed to post the 9th-fastest time, 14:21 behind the stage winner.”

Stage 8 was supposed to herald a return to lower altitudes, though the stage was still significantly higher than sea level, where the V8-powered Toyota Hilux is at its best. Stage 9 sees the crews drop down even lower, and features a loop of 285 km through some of the toughest terrain on this year’s Dakar. Dunes, long off-piste sections and tough navigation can trip up even the most experienced crews, so this year’s race is far from over.

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