Hailed as the toughest race on earth, the 2021 Dakar will go ahead from 3 – 15 January 2021. Toyota Gazoo Racing SA will field four Toyota Hilux challengers into the Car class with 62 other competitors, many of which are Dakar legends and multiple race winners.
Two of those are Toyota drivers Nasser Al-Attiyah and local gent Giniel De Villiers. The other two Toyota Hilux trucks are also being piloted by the South African duo of Henk Lategan and Shameer Variawa, with their navigators Brett Cummings and Dennis Murphy respectively.
The atmosphere within the team is one of quiet confidence. The 2020 Dakar race saw the car’s suffer more than enough punctures during the race, something that proved all too costly. The other feeling was that many of the stages were too fast. Bear in mind that the race-winning MINI of Carlos Sainz was said to boast a higher top speed than others in the field, which also contributed to its advantage. So for 2021, a few things have changed. Stricter regulations on the governed top speeds as well as slower and more technical routes overall. This sits well with Glyn Hall, head of Hallspeed which is the team’s headquarters in Johannesburg. “We have a good team in terms of experience and youthful talent when it comes to the drivers and the navigators, and over the past decade the Hilux has proved that it has the pace and reliability it needs to win the race.”
Despite his woes with tyres in the 2020 race, Giniel De Villiers is hopeful that the improvements to the car and the changes in the routes will yield better results for his team. “We’ve found some small improvements on the suspension and the engine and some components that make the car better to drive. We’ve also managed to get some testing in and we’ve even managed to do some racing in the local championship so we’re pretty well prepared and the car is in good shape.”
Considering the changes in the stages and the more technical routes, Giniel feels the competition will be better. “I expect it to be more challenging than last year and more technical so it will be a good show.”
Shameer & Henk get pointers from the Legend
Shameer is no stranger to cross country racing but as far as experience goes, he is still relatively young in the field with a DNF in the 2019 event. It is also the first time he will be competing in this new spec Hilux and as much as he has driven it in the local series, Shameer is still getting to grips with it. “I’m still getting used to. Still finding its limits. Still learning how to attack so for Dakar I’m going to just take each day as it comes. Giniel has been giving us quite a few pointers and we've been like a sponge just trying to take in as much possible."
Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings make their way to Dakar for the first time in 2021 and whilst the duo has spent quite a bit of time driving the Hilux in local conditions and winning the SA Cross Country Champs again, the infamous dunes will be a new challenge for them. The team travelled to Namibia as well as Dubai to do some testing to get a little familiar with the dunes, but nothing beats experience and having Giniel De Villiers on hand to give them a few pointers has been a valueable benefit. Henk remarks, “We’re okay with the cars on normal conditions that are similar to what we have here. The big thing is getting used to the dunes and learning how to read the dunes which I still find very difficult. The car is extremely quick in the dunes and the more you push it, the quicker you go and mistakes can happen.”
2021 Roadbook Changes
As if the Dakar isn’t tough enough, drivers and navigators alike will be given the digital roadbooks only 20 minutes before the start of each stage. Giniel relishes the challenge and comments, “This will put more emphasis on the ability of both the driver and the navigator to read the road and to negotiate their way through the route each day. I’m certainly looking forward to this new challenge and am quietly confident that as a team we could have a really good and competitive event.”
Other South Africans to watch
Also competing in the Car class will be the SA pairing of Brian Baragwanath navigator Taye Perry. Brian and Terry have both raced the Dakar before but never in a car with Brian competing and getting a podium in the Quad category in 2016. Taye Perry became the first South African woman to finish the event in 2020, battling through the race on a Bike. The team will be competing in the Century Racing CR6 car that they’ve had the opportunity to race this year in the 2020 Cross Country Championships.
Dakar Dates to Diarise
Toyota Gazoo Racing has packed the cars and parts into pallets and airfreighted them to Saudi Arabia via the UAE. The logistics of getting all competitors and teams to the start of the event in Jeddah, especially with Covid-19 regulations and restrictions in a number of countries is nothing short of miraculous.
1 & 2 January 2021: Scrutineering
2 January 2021: Prologue - A short qualifying stage to determine the starting order for the race.
3 – 15 January 2021: Dakar Stages 1 – 15
9 January 2021: Rest Day in Ha’il.
The Dakar is always a tough yet endearing race across some of the toughest and most spectacular terrain in the world. Watching the drivers and navigators as well as the logistical train that moves with the race to every stage is incredible. For 2021, it is yet another all-new experience with new routes and new stages. There is also a special new entrant with a massive name attached to it. Driving a completely new Prodrive Hunter BRX T1, Sébastien Loeb will be at the helm hoping for some silverware. The Hunter is powered by a 3.5-litre, twinturbo V6 that develops 299kW and 677Nm. It features a design unseen at the Dakar. Penned by Ian Callum, who did the Jaguar F-Type, the car and its driver-navigator pairing of Loeb and Nani Roma are certainly worth keeping an eye on.
So here are the questions of interest? Will Carlos Sainz manage another win with his stellar record and vast experience? Will Nasser or Giniel manage a strong comeback and claim another win for Toyota? Or will we see a new winner step onto that top step?
We asked TGRSA’s Glyn Hall for his opinion on whether a Toyota could win it again? Hall’s answer: “The answer to that question is a simple yes. We have won the race before and we can certainly do it again.”
You can follow all of the Dakar action on Supersport as well as Red Bull TV. Or follow Toyota Gazoo Racing’s social channels for updates:
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/tgrsouthafrica @TGRSA
Facebook - https://web.facebook.com/TGRSouthAfrica TGRSouthAfrica
Twitter - https://twitter.com/TGRSouthAfrica @TGRSouthAfrica