SECOND DAKAR VICTORY FOR TOYOTA GAZOO RACING AS AL-ATTIYAH/BAUMEL TRIUMPH IN SAUDI ARABIA
JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA – Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-drive Mathieu Baumel recorded their second Dakar victory for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, when they won the 2022 Dakar Rally, which took place in Saudi Arabia early in January. The pair dominated the event, winning the prologue on January 1st, as well as the tough opening stage near the city of Ha’il. They also powered their Toyota Hilux to victory in Stage 4, but controlled their pace through the remainder of the event, to bring the car home safely in first place, with a winning margin of 27min 46sec.
Winning the prologue allowed Al-Attiyah/Baumel to choose their starting position for the first stage, and they selected the 10th position on the road. This gave them the optimal position from which to attack: A three-minute dust gap to the car ahead of them; but plenty of tracks to follow, making navigation easier. This paid off handsomely as many of the top crews faltered in the opening stage. The TGR crew managed to pick their way through the tricky terrain without any problems, securing the opening stage win by 12min 44sec over the BRX Hunter of Sebastien Loeb.
The battle with Loeb raged on throughout the race, even though mechanical difficulties for the BRX driver saw the Toyota crew’s lead increase to over 30min – a buffer they never relinquished by driving at a calculated, strategic pace throughout the remainder of the rally.
This year’s race officially started in Ha’il, though the prologue took place mid-way between the city of Jeddah and Ha’il. The terrain for the first week of the rally was monotonous and predictable, without significant landscapes to cross – dunes, sandy tracks and rocky trials were at the order of each day. This changed, however, as the rally reached its second week, after the Rest Day on January 8th, in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. From there, the terrain became steadily more mountainous, with rocky outcroppings and tricky canyons to traverse. The final stage was set between the cities of Bisha and Jeddah, bringing the Dakar caravan back to the its starting point – 4,261 competitive kilometres and 12 stages later.
Al-Attiyah/Baumel’s victory came with the new GR DKR Hilux T1+, an evolution of the team’s former specification Hilux, featuring bigger wheels and tyres; more suspension travel; and an all-new engine. The new power plant was sourced from the Toyota Land Cruiser 300 GR Sport, and the 3.5 litre twin-turbo charged V6 proved extremely reliable from the start.
This engine’s standard power and torque outputs fall within the prescribed maximums as mandated by the FIA, and as such the team was able to utilise the engine in its production form, with the engine management control integrated with the car’s electrics. The team also developed the intercooler system for the engine in-house, using parts from the Toyota family, in order to meet the demands of the Dakar Rally. This meant that, while the engine was pushed to its limits, it remained reliable throughout the race.
The same car secured a 5th place in the overall standings for South Africa’s Dakar stalwart, Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Dennis Murphy. Taking part in his 19th Dakar Rally, the Stellenbosch local set highly competitive stage times throughout the rally, except for Stage 7, when a broken oil pipe cost the crew 1hr, and necessitated the help of teammates Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings, who assisted with mid-stage repairs.
Despite the hour’s time loss, the South Africans pushed on, winning Stage 9 outright, on their way to a Top 5 position. Had they not lost the time on Stage 7, a third place overall was a certainty, and a second place may just have been on the cards. But the Dakar, as is often said, is the Dakar – it bites often, and it bites hard.
This was also true for Lategan/Cummings, taking part in their second Dakar Rally together. The three-time South African Cross-Country (SACCS) champions first took on the Dakar in 2021, when a crash on Stage 5 brought a halt to their race. Up until that point, they had shown a lot of pace and promise, but it would be a year before they got a second chance to show their true potential.
The pair were immediately fast, but a puncture in Stage 1 saw them change the wheel – only for the wheel studs to sheer off roughly 100km later, possibly to some sand residue on the inside of the wheel rim. This cost them more than 3hr, dropping them down to 55th in the overall rankings. But the pair fought back despite the setback, and steadily climbed up the leader board. But more than that, they won two stages outright, including the final dash to Jeddah. Lategan is one of the youngest ever stage winners in the car category at Dakar, and at 27 years of age, he most likely has many more stage wins in his future.
Their final ranking of 31st is not an accurate reflection of their pace, and a broken wheel hub in Stage 4 that cost them an additional 5hr, certainly did not help. Even so, the names of Lategan and Cummings have been etched into Dakar history, thanks to two stage wins.
Despite a rocky start, where bad luck and early nerves conspired against Shameer Variawa and Danie Stassen, the pair brought their Toyota Hilux to the finish in 15th position overall. This is a marked improvement from Variawa’s previous finish, in 2021, where he ended the race in 20th position.
Their best stage came after the Rest Day in Jeddah, as they posted the 7th-fastest time on Stage 7 of the 12-stage rally. This was followed by more Top 20 performances, allowing them to move into 14th place overall by Stage 8. They maintained this position until the final stage, when they lost one spot in the overall standings.
As with the other crews, Variawa/Stassen reported no serious mechanical problems with the Toyota Hilux. The minor issues encountered, however, put them off their rhythm early on. But tenacity and a fighting spirit saw them not only completing the event, but doing so in fine style.
There can be no doubt that Dakar 2022 was a successful campaign for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. Adding a second overall victory brought the team unbridled joy, but it also gave Team Principal Glyn Hall a moment to reflect on the past:
“What an epic victory for Nasser and Mathieu, and the entire team. To come to Dakar and win with our new GR DKR Hilux T1+ first time out is amazing. I’d like to dedicate this win to the memory of Dr. Johan van Zyl, who was a visionary leader and consistent supporter of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Dakar project over many years. We are extremely proud of what we achieved here this year, and I know the Doc would have been too.”
DAKAR 2022 FINAL RESULTS:
1. Al-Attiyah (QAT) / Baumel (AND) TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 38hr 33min 3sec
2. Loeb (FRA) / Lurquin (BEL) Bahrain Raid Xtreme +27min 46sec
3. Al Rajhi (SAU) / Orr (GBR) Overdrive Toyota +1hr 1min 13sec
4. Terranova (ARG) / Carreras (ESP) Bahrain Raid Xtreme +1hr 27min 23sec
5. De Villiers (ZAF) / Murphy (ZAF) TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +1hr 41min 48sec
15. Variawa (ZAF) / Stassen (ZAF) TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +3hr 55min 33sec
31. Lategan (ZAF) / Cummings (ZAF) TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +11hr 51min 21sec