The atmosphere in the city of Lima today was nothing short of electric. Following the drivers to the podium ceremony in downtown Lima, we literally encountered thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of cheering locals lining the streets.
This year's Dakar Rally is finally done and dusted and after 8391km through Argentina, Chile and Peru, the 443-vehicle starting grid has been whittled down to just 249.
The big news for South Africans is that our star driver, Giniel de Villiers (navigated by Dirk von Zitzewitz) has come home third - an incredible achievement for the 2009 Dakar champion (and for the Imperial Toyota team itself) if one considers that the whole effort was put together in little more than three months and that Toyota South Africa is completely new to the Dakar scene.
Visibly relieved to see the podium after such an arduous journey, Giniel described the last few stages in Peru as having been the toughest.
"The dunes in stage 12 and 13 were very different from what I'm used to, small but very soft. It was a big challenge for us, but the Hilux had no problem getting through it all."
Dakar's overall victory, however, belonged to Frenchman Sephane Peterhansel in his Mini Countryman, who has finally proven himself a master on all wheels after winning his 10th Dakar and fourth win in the car category.
Second spot belonged to his team mate, Spaniard Nani Roma, while fourth overall was scooped by Leonid Novitskiy - in another Mini. The controversial American, 'cowboy' Robby Gordon, whose compliance with the rules had been under question, took fifth place and also laid on the aggression in his Hummer to win the final stage.
With Robbie not having been excluded from the race, Giniel's team mate Duncan Vos only just missed making it into the top 10 overall. Still, 11th place is nothing to sneeze at, considering it was the SA Off-Road champion's first Dakar rally.
"It was a lot more challenging than I ever imagined," Vos admitted. "The height of the 'sand mountains' was really immense and some even forced us to stop and deflate the tyres."
Fellow South African Mark Corbett, driving a Toyota-powered CR4 buggy, finished the Dakar in style, completing the final stage 14th and ranking 24th overall.
Corbett summed the race up perfectly: "Words such as relentless, gruelling, tough and tenacity take on a whole new meaning on the Dakar."
South Africans can also take pride in two of our bikers having survived the grueling and ultra-dangerous two-wheeled race. KTM rider Darryl Curtis took 22nd overall, while Greg Raaf finished 83nd out of 98 finishers. SA's 'adopted' New Zealander (Curtis' team mate) Chris Birch finished 27th overall.
It was also a KTM affair at the very front of the biking mob, with Cyril Despres having won the two-wheeled category with a 53-minute lead over Mark Coma, despite the two having been just minutes apart in the middle stages of the rally. In the end, it was navigational errors and breakdowns that put paid to Coma´s ambitions.
Still, the race that lurks most in our minds is the car category in 2013. With Toyota South Africa having racked up the necessary experience and with the 2012 disadvantage of practicing with 2013's power-restricting rules, a Dakar win is far from out of the question.
RESULTS of 14th and final stage from Pisco to Lima
1 Robby Gordon (US) Hummer 22min 43sec
2 Ricardo Leal Dos Santos (Portugal) Mini +21sec
3 Krzyscztof Holowczyx (Poland) Mini +38sec
4 Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) Toyota +1min28
5 Carlos Sousa (Portugal) Great Wall +1min36
6 Lucio Alvarez (Argentina) Toyota +2min01
7 Leonid Novitskiy (Russia) Mini +2min10
8 Nani Roma (Spain) Mini +2min11
9 Bernhar Ten Brink (Netherlands) Mitsubishi +2min49
10 Stephane Peterhansel (France) Mini +3min12
1 Stephane Peterhansel (France) Mini - 38hours 54min 46sec
2 Nani Roma (Spain) Mini +41min56
3 Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) Toyota +1hour 13min25
4 Leonid Novitskiy (Russia) Mini +2hours 11min54
5 Robby Gordon (US) Hummer +2hours 16min53
6 Lucio Alvarez (Argentina) Toyota +4hours 05min52
7 Carlos Sousa (Portugal) Great Wall +4hours 30min24
8 Ricardo Leal Dos Santos (Portugal) Mini +5hours 03min18
9 Bernhar Ten Brinke (Netherlands) Mitsubishi +5hours 11min18
10 Krzysztof Holowczyc (Poland) Mini +6hours 59min38
1 Pal Anders Ullevalseter (Norway) KTM - 22min 26sec
2 Marc Coma (Spain) KTM +1min08
3 Stefan Svitko (Slovakia) KTM +1min43
4 Gerard Farres Guell (Spain) KTM +2min01
5 Alessandro Botturi (Italy) KTM +2min11
6 Olivier Pain (France) Yamaha +2min55
7 Jordi Viladoms (Spain) KTM +3min35
8 Helder Rodrigues (Portugal) Yamaha +3min41
9 Juan Barreda Bort (Spain) Husqvarna +3min44
10 Cyril Despres (France) KTM +3min51
1 Cyril Despres (France) KTM +43hours 28min 11sec
2 Marc Coma (Spain) KTM) +53min20
3 Helder Rodrigues (Portugal) Yamaha +1hour 11min17
4 Jordi Viladoms (Spain) KTM +1hour 40min56
5 Stefan Svitko (Slovakia) KTM +1hour 47min28
6 Pal Anders Ullevalseter (Norway) KTM +2hours 11min56
7 Gérard Farres Guell (Spain) KTM +2hours 14min22
8 Alessandro Botturi (Italy) KTM +2hours 59min04
9 Olivier Pain (France) Yamaha +3hours 17min50
10 Felipe Zanol (Brazil) KTM +3hours 25min56