Nasser Al Attiyah wins Dakar Rally for Toyota

Nasser Al Attiyah wins Dakar Rally for Toyota

Nasser Al Attiyah has won the 2019 Dakar Rally driving a Gazoo Racing Toyota Hilux, cruising home to wrap up an emphatic third Dakar victory, his third for three different carmakers, as Carlos Sainz (Mini) fought off Sebastian Loeb (Peugeot) and Cyril Despres (Mini) to win an almost academic final stage. Al Attiyah won the race by 46 minutes over Spaniard Nani Roma’s Mini, with rally legend Sebastien Loeb third from the Minis of Pole Jakub Przygonski and Frenchman Cyril Despres, Martin Prokop's Ford, Saudi Yazeed Al Rajhi and Czech Boris Garfulic's Minis and SA hero Giniel de Villiers’ Toyota in ninth.

The motorcycle race went down to the wire as Aussie Toby Price (KTM), Chilean Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) and Austrian Matthias Walkner (KTM) set off last and in reverse order and split by six minutes in the overall standings, but Quintanilla tumbled early on to lose time as he pressed on hurt as Price escaped up front to take the day and the overall win — his second Dakar victory in five starts and an incredible 18th Dakar motorcycle win for KTM. Teammate Walkner wound up second ahead of Husqvarna duo Quintanilla and US youngster Andrew Short, Frenchman Xavier de Soultrait’s Yamaha and Chilean Honda rider Jose Flormino.  Two South African champions, Ross Branch (KTM) and Kenny Gilbert (Husqvarna) took an emphatic 1-2 in the motorcycle rookie race. 

Russia’s Eduard Nikolaiev’s Kamaz took the truck win, Argentine Nicolas Cavigliasso totally dominated the quad race and Chilean Chaleco Lopez Contardo took side-by side honours, but the headline story is without doubt the South African success story.

Team principal Glynn Hall has finally achieved his long-held dream of winning the Dakar. Hall first attacked the epic race with his SA-built Nissans before switching to Toyota in 2012. The often under-funded Toyota team has also remained unfancied in an international sense, but it has long delivered Dakar podiums as the team worked tirelessly towards its objective finally achieved in Peru in 2019.  Two South African champions, Ross Branch (KTM) and Kenny Gilbert (Husqvarna) took an emphatic 1-2 in the motorcycle rookie race. 

Dakar’s first South African hero was a biker — Alfie Cox flew the flag brilliantly in the late ‘90s and early new millennium, taking a trio of podiums, but there have been few serious SA Dakar two wheeler attempts since. Ross Branch and Kenny Gilbert have changed all that, SA’s cross country motorcycle racing frontrunners went to Dakar with humble objectives but both return home with that Dakar rookie 1-2 and a couple of top-20 finishes in 13th and 19th respectively. Cox ended 17th on his debut in 1998... 

Multiple former South African Cross Country Moto champion but a Dakar rookie, Pretoria’s Kenny Gilbert started the week in 42nd on his Husqvarna before moving steadily up the leaderboard on his Husqvarna to end up 25th overall and third of the bike rookies by Saturday’s rest day. Kenny continued to make up places through week 2 to wind up a stunning 19th overall and second amongst the rookies.

Gilbert’s arch-rival on home soil, Botswana’s reigning SA champion Ross Branch was another to star on his Dakar debut aboard his KTM.  Branch climbed the leaderboard to sit 22nd by Friday before moving up to 17th on Saturday to take the rookie lead into the rest day. Ross then picked up a position a day through the second week to start Thursday’s final stage in 13th overall en route to that motorcycle rookie victory.

Dakar legend Giniel de Villiers was leading the cars on Day 2, but the Gazoo Toyota Hilux ace hit a rock and lost several hours on Wednesday and then lost more time assisting teammate Ten Brink on Thursday to start Friday 40th. Undeterred, the former Dakar winner fought back to end up ninth in a consistent fightback to add to a stunning Dakar record. His Proudly South African team Toyota teammate Nasser Al Attiyah meanwhile finally brought Dakar glory to Toyota.

Another South African to earn a Dakar 2019 finisher’s prize was truck crew member Sean Berriman, who raced alongside Germans, driver Mathias Beringher and Stefan Henken in a MAN as part of South Racing’s fast response team. The trio enjoyed a positive race in between emergency servicing their teammates to come in 12th overall among the behemoths.

Two other South African entries starred in the Dakar, but did not make the finish — car rookies and the first SA team of colour to tackle the epic race, Shameer Variawa and Zaheer Bodhanya enjoyed a Dakar baptism of fire, arriving in Peru with a brand new SA developed Red Lined Nissan Navara and zero dune driving experience. They nonetheless acquitted themselves well, but struggled to overcome a low starting position on a dusty and difficult Dakar. 

’The Overtakers’ spent much of the first week moving up the field each morning only to be thwarted by another problem in the afternoon and do it all over again the next day, often racing into the dark and the crew working through the night. Their efforts were finally thwarted when the Navara hit a hidden rock in visibility, severely hampered by a combination of fog and fesh fesh dust to force its retirement on day 8. They will be back!

Another SA competitor to show ultimate grit was Original class bike racer Stuart Gregory, who raced without any service assistance out of a trunk containing all his spares and tools carried from stage to stage in a truck, quietly and effectively progressed day by day. The Port Edward KZN adventurer’s Dakar came to an end on Tuesday, when he suffered the despair of an engine failure on his KTM to end a stirring debut effort. 

334 machines came under starter’s orders in Lima Monday 7 January, setting off on a short blast down the Pacific coast to Pisco, 102 of them being cars and it was Attiyah who struck while the iron is hot beating the Minis Sainz and Przygonski to Pisco. Rally legend Sebastien Loeb’s Peugeot delivered a crushing performance to win the 342km second day to San Juan de Marcona from Roma and Bernard Ten Brinke and Giniel de Villiers’ Toyotas as de Villiers moved into the overall lead over Ten Brinke, while French Dakar legend Stephane Peterhansel lost 20 minutes and Al Attiyah appeared to struggle for pace. 

Wednesday saw a decisive 331km run Arequipa as leader de Villers and Sainz both hit rocks and lost significant time, Loeb and French frontrunner Cyril Despres’ Mini got lost and Ten Brinke struggled for pace as Peterhansel beat Al Attiyah and Przygonski to the stage win. The leaderboard was turned on its head with Al Attiyah leading Al Rajhi’s Mini and Peterhansel. 

Thursday's 405km stage to Takna, the first half of the marathon stage with no service assistance overnight, saw Al Attiyah defeat Peterhansel and Loeb in a battle of the giants as Peterhansel moved up to second overall while Ten Brinke lost several hours due to suspension damage. Friday's 345km dash to Arequipa saw Loeb take a compelling car victory over Al Attiyah, who tightened his grip on the overall race to 25-minutes over Peterhansel, Roma, Przygonski and Loeb at the midpoint before Saturday’s rest day. 

The second week started with the run back to San Juan de Marcona, where Loeb led Al Attiyah and Sainz home as Peterhansel lost 20 minutes, to leave Attiyah 36 minutes ahead of Loeb and Peterhansel overall. Monday’s seventh day around San Juan de Marcona proved dramatic as Loeb stopped for 40 minutes while Peterhansel, Sainz and Roma went on the attack, but fourth placed Al Attiyah consolidated his lead over Peterhansel, Roma, Loeb and Despres as Ten Brinke retired.

Loeb came from behind to beat Al Attiyah, de Villiers and Przygonski on Tuesday as Attiyah again stretched his lead to 46 minutes over the tussling Roma and Loeb. Wednesday’s penultimate 312km blast around Pisco saw Peterhansel retire after co-driver David Castera suffered a back injury, while Loeb and Despres lost time to leave Al Attiyah to take another day from Roma and de Villiers and opened his lead to a commanding 51 minutes as de Villiers moved up to 8th overall in his fight back from 40th.

137 bikes took the start as Spain’s Joan Barreda (Honda) took the day from Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna), US rider Ricky Brabec (Honda) and Adrien van Beveren (Yamaha). Tuesday was all about Brabec and his Honda until last year’s winner, Austrian Matthias Walkner (KTM) stole the win while Barreda led overall from Walkner and Brabec. Yamaha’s Marquis Xavier de Soultrait avoided navigation issues to win his first Dakar stage from Quintanilla and Argentine Kevin Benavides’ Honda on Wednesday as Barreda’s Honda stopped to leave Quintanilla in the overall lead over Benavides and Brit Sam Sunderland’s KTM.

Brabec then led all the way to beat KTM trio Walkner, Aussie Toby Price and Sunderland on the first half of the marathon stage on Thursday, moving ahead of Quintanilla and Price overall. A close fought Friday saw Sunderland beat de Soultrait and Walkner after Sunderland was given time back for stopping to assist the injured Paulo Goncalves. That left Brabec, Quintanilla and Walkner in a close overall fight into the midway rest day.

Sunday’s motorcycle race proved epic as Quintanilla moved into the overall lead ahead of Brabec and Price after Sunderland once again came from behind to beat Brabec, who ended third to Chilean Jose Flormino’s Honda. Quintanilla lost 20 minutes on Monday to see Brabec back into the overall lead over Price, van Beveren, Sunderland and Quintanilla, all within ten minutes of the lead.

Tuesday started with a bang — quite literally for luckless leader Brabec, whose Honda blew its engine, leaving Walkner to lead home from Quintanilla and Sunderland to leave Price leading Quintanilla, Walkner and van Beveren overall. Wednesday saw the top four start together and keep a close eye on each other as they finished the day within a second behind unfancied duo, Frenchman Michel Metge (Sherco TVS) and Daniel Nosiglia Jager(KTM) to leave Price leading Quintanilla by a minute with Walkner five minutes further back, but there was heartbreak for van Beveren as his Yamaha broke its engine to retire 

Russia’s Eduard Nikolaiev’s Kamaz led the 41 truck starters over the first week, beaten only on Wednesday by teammate Andrey Karginov day 3, but Karginov was later disqualified for not stopping after bumping a spectator. Week 2 saw a busy week as Gerhard de Rooy fought back in his Iveco to win a couple of stages before Nikolaiev lost an hour Tuesday as teammate and countryman Dimitry Sotnikov took the day to move into the overall lead, but Nikolaive bounced back Wednesday to take a 58 second lead into the final day over Sotnikov.

Argentine Nicolas Cavigliasso totally dominated the quad race, winning nine of the ten stages to beat countrymen Jeremaias Gonzales Ferioli, who won the other stage, and Gustavo Gallego in a Yamaha clean sweep. Chilean Francisco Lopez Contardo meanwhile took side-by side honours after a consistent race saw him overcome the similar Can Ams of Spaniard Gerard Farres Guell and Brazil’s Renaldo Varela.

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