Unstoppable: Toyota Tames the Dakar
With the changing of the guard on the horizon, as Dakar shifts to be more sustainable, Toyota has reinstated why they're at the top of their game. They came; they saw and kicked something of the proverbial nature. Who can stop them now?
Since its inaugural running in 1979, the rally has seen competition on four continents. It struggled to find a permanent home thanks to a dark history of terrorism threats and interruptions before finally settling in Saudi Arabia, which saw its fourth time hosting this year; it remains, arguably, the toughest rally on the racing calendar.
Such is the charm of Dakar, packaged in such a way as to sell a dream to those who dare subscribe. The race looks to have settled in Saudi but, at the same time, not losing the essence of the race that could see disaster for anyone at any time. Such was the experience for Audi this year, which, sadly, thanks to bad luck, saw them retiring two cars.
Only the Mattias Ekstrom e-Tron and navigator Emil Bergkvist finished the race in a dismal P14 overall. Perhaps on the vanguard of the changing environment of sustainable motoring with its energy-conscious biofuels and hybrid technology, but at what cost? The execution of the entire package, however, fell below expectations. But one can't but note that if they hadn't had the issues they had, could we have had four rings on the top podium? Would've, could've… didn't.
With Toyota firing on all cylinders, is it a question of whether they're still on the rise or have they peaked? I don't quite have the crystal ball, but I can say that they have the winning formula at the moment, and it's going to take a few own goals and a comprehensively omnipotent opponent to shake Toyota free from the vice-like grip they have.
Nasser Al-Attiyah looks to be gunning for Stéphane Peterhansel's name as the new Mr Dakar and is on a charge to bridge the gap of 14 wins to the Frenchman. However, the Qatari is now, after his recent success taking his tally to five title wins, trailing by nine. But in the dominant way he controlled the rally, it looks like there's plenty in the tank to make it happen. With his consistency, he's proven that he is the real deal and is virtually unstoppable, winning three stages and staying in the top 10 for 12 out of the 14 stages. This performance meant that he and navigator Mattieu Baumel finished 1 hour and 20 minutes in front of Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin in their Prodrive Hunter. Despite Loeb's terrible start to the rally, the formidable car and driver package seemingly didn't have an answer to Toyota's dominant performance.
The future is bright for the rally, given the mix of talent that shines. Brazilian Lucas Maraes and Timo Gottschalk finished with a podium in their rookie year, taking the fight against the top teams, but it was Toyota Gazoo Racing that shone bright, with all three cars finishing in the top five. A great scenario that could have seen Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings with a podium had it not been for some technical issues following a hard landing and rolling the Hilux towards the later parts of the rally.
Where to from here? Does Toyota ride the next few years out until the significant rule changes drive more sustainable motoring to come to fruition, and then do the switch given that they have the right recipe? Or, do they take the knock now like Audi seems to be doing and take a long-term view of the future in the sport? Knowing what the team is capable of, you can hedge your bets that it may be a hybrid approach in doing both. No pun intended.
Take nothing away from it. This is Toyota Gazoo Racing's time to shine, and behind it is one of the great South African stories to impact the world of motorsport. Given the sheer magnitude of talent showcased on the engineering front, so many from this race, it's incredible to see South African products and skills take on the world, especially the might of some of the biggest names in rally racing history.
Words: Brend vd Schyff