Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa and Overdrive Racing put third stage disappointments and the retirement of Nasser Saleh Al-Atttiyah firmly behind them on the fourth special stage of the 2017 Dakar Rally between San Salvador de Jujuy in Argentina and Tupiza in Bolivia on Thursday.
The Spanish crew of Joan Roma and Alex Haro began the day in fifth place in the overall rankings after collecting a puncture on stage three and were second quickest through the opening passage control and reached the Bolivian frontier in a similar position. They dropped several minutes over the closing kilometres to stage winner and new race leader Cyril Despres, but the Overdrive Racing crew earned the third quickest time, maintained fifth overall and closed to within 10min 30sec of the outright rally lead.
Giniel De Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz now head the Toyota Gazoo Racing South African team’s challenge in their Hilux and set about climbing back towards the top five from 10th overall. Despite minor delays on the stage, the 2009 winner was able to climb three places in the rankings and reached Tupiza in seventh position and is still within striking distance of the podium over the remaining eight stages before the finish in Buenos Aires on January 14th.
Al-Attiyah and Baumel forced to withdraw after third stage crash
Toyota Gazoo Racing and Overdrive technicians examined Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah’s Toyota in San Salvador de Jujuy when he arrived at the bivouac in the early hours of Thursday morning and were forced to withdraw the Qatari’s car from the race when damage to the chassis was discovered. It was a bitter disappointment for the two-time winner of the race who had led outright after the first stage in Paraguay on January 2nd.
The Dutch crew of Erik van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar bounced back strongly from a disappointing third stage to set the eighth quickest time into Tupiza. With several rivals falling by the wayside, the performance was sufficient to lift Van Loon from 36th at the start of the day to 23rd in the unofficial standings.
Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot surged up the leader board on Wednesday and began the fourth stage from 12th position, but the French crew dropped over two hours on the run to the frontier with Bolivia and slipped back to 20th overall. They had not started the second section on Thursday evening after sustaining an engine issue.
Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach and co-driver Robert Howie hit trouble before the first section of the stage finished near the border with Bolivia, although they maintained 21st at the start of the second part of the stage and reached the overnight halt in 19th position.
Alejandro Yacopini and Daniel Merlo were running in 27th overall after section one of the day’s stage and reached Tupiza in an unofficial 25th, but the Chinese crew of He Zhitao and Kai Zhao failed to pass the first waypoint in their Overdrive Racing Toyota running under the Boundless Yong Team banner.
TODAY AND TOMORROW
The day’s stage of 416km was delayed over an hour because of low-lying fog and then headed north towards the Bolivia frontier at altitudes of over 3,400 metres. There was a short neutralisation zone at the border point, before the final kilometres at energy-sapping heights to the remote mining settlement of Tupiza in the Potosi Department. The route included a punishing special stage of 416km in a route of 521km and even featured challenging dune crossings at altitude.
The first true Bolivian stage on Friday starts out of Tupiza and heads in the direction of Oruro. This is the longest special of the event so far, at 447km, in a route of 692km. The battle will be fought out at altitude on the Bolivian Altoplano and includes a series of dune sections near the finish.
WHAT THEY SAID:
JEAN-MARC FORTIN, CEO OF OVERDRIVE RACING
“Regrettably, we have been forced to withdraw Nasser’s car from the rally. He finished the stage yesterday on three wheels and carried on to the end after they made some repairs at 4,000 metres with some help with some spare parts from the car. They arrived quite late at the bivouac around 01.00hrs this morning. The problem was the chassis was damaged at the bottom, close to the tank, and we are not able to restart for security reasons. Because, if you bend the chassis, you are not allowed to restart. This is the end of the game – a sad fact. It is a shame. Because it would have been possible to win some stages with Nasser and to make some more headlines going forward over the next few days.