While some big names faltered on a tough stage three of the Dakar Rally in Argentina on Tuesday, Dakar rookies Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr (DMack/Barden Toyota Hilux) improved their overall position by two places to 33rd after completing the 301-kilometre racing section between San Rafael and San Juan in 24th place in a time of 3h 18m 50 sec.
The result, their best in the race so far, was hard earned after they experienced gearbox problems and lost the use of fifth gear for much of the stage. They have now moved from 101st at the start in Rosario on Sunday to 49th after the opening stage on Monday and 35th after completing Tuesday’s stage.
“We had another good day,” acknowledged an upbeat Rundle in the overnight bivouac at the Autodromo de San Rafael, “but we could have done even better if we hadn’t lost the gear.”
“We’re trying to keep our feet on the ground and take this amazing race one day at a time. But the excitement and energy that surrounds the Dakar, with the thousands of enthusiastic spectators we’ve seen everywhere we’ve been, gets through to you and it’s difficult not to get caught up in the moment.”
Their Toyota Hilux is one of only three with independent rear suspension built by Johannesburg-based Hallspeed for Toyota Motorsport and was the same vehicle in which 2009 Dakar Rally winners Giniel de Villiers and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz finished second in the 2013 Dakar Rally.
De Villiers is currently lying sixth overall in an evolution version of the 2013 Hilux, while team-mate Leeroy Poulter, who is competing in his first Dakar Rally with experienced co-driver Rob Howie, is in a second evo Toyota and currently 10th overall after starting 23rd on Sunday.
Special stage three was won by Nani Roma of Spain and Michel Perin of France in a MINI, who assumed the overall lead in the general classification and now enjoy a 9m 6s advantage over Argentina’s Orlando Terranova and Paulo Fiuza of Portugal in another MINI. Third overall after the first three stages are former winners Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz in a third MINI.
The competitors face another demanding 658 kilometres of racing on Wednesday as well as 200 kilometres of liaison, between San Juan and Chilecito. At 858 kilometres, it’s the longest stage they’ve faced since the historic one from Zouerat to Tichit in Africa in 2005. They will have to cross rivers, descend the canyons in a Wild West setting and beware of fellow competitors – wide open spaces will allow for overtaking.