South Racing’s trio of Toyota Hiluxes finished first, fifth and eighth in the punishing Desafio Ruta 40, the first hurdle of the Dakar Challenge 2016 and a round of the Argentine Cross-Country Rally Championship, on Thursday afternoon.
The German-based team’s three cars were competitive over five gruelling off-road special stages between San Rafael, San Juan and La Rioja in north-western Argentina and the Argentinean driver Sebastián Halpern and his Uruguayan navigator Sergio Lafuente confirmed a memorable victory with the fastest time on the final loop stage around La Rioja.
The Argentinean pairing of Ricardo Martinez and Eugenio Arrieta finished fifth in the second of the South Racing Toyotas and Spaniard Fernando Alvarez and his regular Argentinean navigator Luciano Genonni were eighth after dropping time on the penultimate stage due to a mechanical failure in their Conarpesa-backed Toyota.
It was good to be back in Argentina again and the Ruta 40 lived up to its reputation as a gruelling cross-country rally, said South Racing’s director Scott Abraham. Sebastián’s and Sergio’s victory was a great result on their car debut. Ricardo and Eugenio were a model of consistency and for Fernando and Luciano it was a difficult race, but the team will learn and come back stronger in Baja Spain.
A big thanks goes to the entire South Racing team, both on the race and at home. It has been a tough few months and the team’s pace will not slow with Italy this weekend followed by Silk Way and Baja Spain in July.
The South Racing trio made a solid start on the opening stage that looped around San Rafael. Halpern slotted into second position behind early leader Jose Garcia, while Alvarez and Martinez were classified in sixth and seventh positions.
Heavy snowfall in the foothills of the Andes around Uspallata in the Mendoza Province forced race officials to modify the route of the second stage between San Rafael and San Juan. The revised competitive section contained 226 competitive kilometres in a route of 528km and started from Retamito in the Province of San Juan.
South Racing’s drivers were in superb form and Halpern set the quickest time on the modified special, the Argentine crossing the finish line 6min 38sec in front of fourth-placed Alvarez after overnight leader Garcia lost time and slipped to sixth place. Martinez was fifth in the third of the South Racing Hiluxes and held sixth overall.
The third special stage of 515.15km looped around the San Juan bivouac and started in sub-zero temperatures at altitude. It took in mountain tracks, broken trails, river crossings, wadis and off-road sections. Garcia claimed the stage win, but the South Racing trio completed the special in second, fourth and sixth places, with Halpern again leading the way from Martinez and Alvarez. It meant the three Toyotas were first, fifth and sixth in the overall rankings with two stages to run.
The fourth competitive section wound its way from San Juan to La Rioja and offered 435.67km of timed-to-the-second action. Halpern was in superb form for South Racing and beat Garcia by 1min 04 sec to extend his outright lead to 34min 50sec heading into the final loop stage around La Rioja. Martinez finished the special in fifth place to hold fourth overall, but Alvarez was classified in 16th after losing several hours with technical issues and slipped to eighth place.
Halpern stayed out of trouble over the closing loop stage to set a time of 1hr 53min 54sec and that was sufficient to beat Garcia and confirm a winning margin for South Racing of 36min 55sec.
Martinez clocked the sixth quickest time in the final stage and missed out on fourth place to Martin Maine by just 23 seconds after 21 hours of racing. Alvarez was fourth fastest and reached the finish in eighth.
South Racing was founded in 2013. Based near Frankfurt in Germany, the young, customer-driven team also has workshops in Portugal and has extensive experience of the Dakar Rally and rallying in South America.
The team’s attention now turns to this weekend’s Italian Baja, a round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies. South Racing is running a Ford Ranger for the Mobilex team of Juriy Sazonov and Dmitro Tysro in Italy
2016 Desafio Ruta 40 final positions
1. Sebastián Halpern (ARG)/Sergio Lafuente (URY) Toyota Hilux, 19hr 07min 16sec
2. Jose Garcia (ARG)/Ricardo Torlaschi (ARG) Chevrolet S10, 19hr 44min 11sec
3. Martin Maldonado (ARG)/Sebastien Scholz (ARG) Prototipo Colcar, 20hr 47min 47sec
4. Martin Maine (ARG)/Carolina Carcasson (ARG) Volkswagen Race Amaro, 21hr 54min 22sec
5. Ricardo Martinez (ARG)/Eugenio Arrieta (ARG) Toyota Hilux, 21hr 54min 45sec
6. Juan Manuel Silva (ARG)/Juan Sisterna (ARG) Prototipo Colcar, 22hr 36min 58sec
7. Alejandro Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Merlo (ARG) Toyota SW4, 24hr 11min 28sec
8. Fernando Alvarez (ESP)/Luciano Gennoni (ARG) Toyota Hilux, 24hr 34min 37sec