Twice champion Nasser bin Saleh al Attiyah feels that his much improved Toyota Hilux car may help in his mission to win the maiden Dakar Rally for the Japanese manufacturers.
The torturous 5,000-km Dakar Rally begins on Monday with the Lima to Pisco stage. The Qatari driver, runner-up to Spaniard Carlos Sainz last year, is hoping to conquer the Middle East-like landscapes of Peru as most of the rally is being contested in sand dunes.
Attiyah said on the rally website, “This time we have a really good car. Last year, we finished in second place, despite having a few problems. We improved a lot since the last Dakar and my aim is to win this rally for Toyota.”
But he insists the rally, though it is shorter and different, would still demand a lot of focus. “This Dakar will be different - only in one country with 70 percent of the route in sand dunes. It will be really hard. We need to respect all the drivers.
“Last year, Peugeot had four cars and everybody was helping the leader. This year, all Peugeot riders are with Mini. The race is shorter, we need to be really focused and don’t have not lose any time with the navigation.”
His Toyota Gazoo racing South Africa Team Manager Glyn Hall also feels that his drivers must capitalise on the opportunity to claim a milestone first Dakar win for the Japanese giants in 2019.
Toyota Hilux cars finished best of the rest behind the dominant Peugeots in the previous two editions of the Dakar, with Gazoo drivers Attiyah and Giniel de Villiers making up the podium behind winner Sainz last year.
Now that Peugeot has withdrawn from cross-country rallying, Hall is convinced his team must seize its chance. “Last year our goal was also to win, but this year we have to do it,” Hall was quoted by Autosport as saying.
“We have a good car, good drivers, the same team from last year. It is a positive continuity. We had two chances to win [in 2018], but we finished second and third. This year we must achieve it.”
Attiyah and de Villiers will again be partnered by third driver Bernhard ten Brinke, who likewise was a frontrunner last year and claimed a stage win.
Toyota will face opposition from the X-raid Mini team - which signed three drivers from Peugeot’s works line-up and will also field five of its regular 4x4s - as well as the PH Sport-entered privateer Peugeot of Sebastien Loeb.
“We hope we can do a very good job, we need to give Toyota that first place they have not yet achieved,” said 2009 champion de Villiers.
“We have the same pressure as last year with Peugeot, I think we may have a slightly greater chance of winning now that there is no official team, but it will be a tough race. The team that makes fewest mistakes will win.”
According to Hall, the team made only minor changes to the Hilux that contested the 2018 event.
“The base is the same,” he said. “We changed the cooling system because we had too much cooling last year. We worked a lot on the suspension and the shock absorbers, we made the car more comfortable for the drivers, because their seat was too high.
“We have an air restrictor [that’s] 1mm narrower than in 2018, which implies five percent less power, but we changed the characteristics of the engine slightly.”
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