Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa all charged up for Dakar 2021

By Pritesh Ruthun Time of article published Dec 8, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - “The rich tapestry of landscapes in Saudi Arabia offers an almost infinite number of permutations to give the route of the Dakar a better flavour. Just as 2020 was a quest of discovery, the 2021 route will be a journey of exploration. Everything will be brand-new, including every single kilometre of the specials, while the fastest sectors, where the difference comes down to raw power, have been trimmed.”

These are the words of the Dakar 2021 organisers, people who are genuinely confident that despite travel restrictions and the overhanging Covid-19 pandemic that’s still sweeping the globe, next year’s race will be one of the best ever staged.

Toyota Gazoo Racing will be entering four crews in the 2021 Dakar Rally, scheduled to start on January 3 in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. The works team will consist of Nasser Al-Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel; Giniel de Villiers and navigator Alex Haro; rookie Henk Lategan and navigator Brett Cummings; and Shameer Variawa and navigator Dennis Murphy.

The team, which has competed at the Dakar since 2012, will field a mix of highly experienced specialists, together with relative newcomers to the rally-raid world for 2021. This will give it a strong attacking force in the form of Nasser and Mathieu; as well as Giniel and Alex while building depth and experience in the form of Henk and Brett, as well as Shameer and Dennis.

Since its first Dakar Rally entry, the team recorded best overall results of 3rd (2012), 2nd (2013), 4th (2014), 2nd (2015), 3rd (2016), 5th (2017), 2nd (2018), 1st (2019) and 2nd (2020).

TOYOTA GAZOO SA TEAM BOSS SAYS

Glyn Hall, the man responsible for assembling the team as well as building the Hilux bakkies with a dedicated crew of around 50 staff, spoke to us about the challenges of Dakar 2021.

“It’s been a really challenging year in terms of working toward a goal during Covid-19 restrictions, but we’re fortunate that we have been able to race at local events in the run-up to next year’s race in Saudi Arabia. Most of the teams haven’t had a chance to race competitively, particularly with the new road book, so we think we’re in a slightly stronger position going into the event,” he says.

Glyn Hall.

Hall expounded, however, that just because the team’s Hiluxes have turned a wheel in anger, it doesn’t mean they going into the event with bloated egos or a sense of over-confidence, as anything can happen at the Dakar.

“We’re as ready as we can be and in a few weeks time, we’ll pack up the Hiluxes and send them on an A330 to Jeddah where we’ll start the race this year,” he adds.

Along with the Hiluxes will be crates and crates of supplies, but for the first time, they won’t be taking drinking water. “We’ve always carried water but this time, we’ve decided to source purified drinking water over there. We can’t risk one of the drivers or co-drivers becoming ill because of water, and they drink so much of it, so we have to ensure that it’s one of the key resources on the expedition.”

Hall and the team will also be packing an entire replacement Hilux in parts, except for an extra engine block, as you cannot change the block on a Dakar vehicle when servicing it or you will be disqualified. The team is also packing extra shocks, tyres, you know, the usual sorts of things that will need replacing on the thousands of kilometres of the desert that lies ahead.

THE DRIVERS ARE READY TO RUMBLE

Giniel de Villiers, Henk Lategan and navigator Brett Cummings; and Shameer Variawa told us that they are extremely motivated to take on the ferocious Dakar next year.

Giniel de Villiers.

De Villiers said: “It’s been a challenging year, no doubt, but for me, the focus is on doing as best we can, as always. I’ve taken my family across before, but you know we move about a lot and it’s a pandemic now and we are really looking at honing all our senses to focus on what lies ahead of us in a few weeks time. I’ve had the opportunity to do this so many times but each time it’s a new challenge and you can never really plan for it but I am making sure that I am mentally and physically fit and that when the race starts on January 3 I will be giving it everything I have.”

Lategan added: “It’s going to be a very different experience as it’s a huge race with so much heritage and I’ll be driving amongst some accomplished teammates. The biggest thing, however, is not having my wife and 10-month-old baby with me on the Dakar as they literally travel with me to all my races. I am mentally prepared, though, and I am keeping fit and I am ready to race. It was great to get behind the wheel of the Hilux in Parys a few weeks ago at the cross country event, and I used that opportunity to get as familiar as I could with the bakkie. I know it’s going to be tough, but I’m ready for it!”

Cummings noted: “I’m very excited to go to the Dakar and I am confident that we have a team that can do well. We will be racing amongst the world’s best and we’re taking our sharpened skills to the race with an aim to do extremely well. It’s been a tough year, with the Covid-19 pandemic weighing heavily on what we were able to do to prepare but in the end, I am confident and I am ready to take on this race.”

Variawa said: “This is not an easy race and I’m not going in with my guard low. We are dealing with Covid-19 travel restrictions, the threat of infection, the looming threat of the competition, and the changing environment of the desert. I’ve done what I can to prepare and I’m taking the next few weeks to mentally focus on what lies ahead. I can’t tell you what I expect because it’s a journey into the unknown.”

The 43rd edition of the Dakar will be held in Saudi Arabia from 3 to 15 January 2021. Jeddah will host the start and the finish of the event and every single timed section of the loop course, which will include a rest day in Ha'il, is brand new. The 2021 Dakar also takes a trip down memory lane with the launch of the Dakar Classic. In parallel with the main race, a test of consistency will be held for vehicles that took part in the Dakar or other major rally-raid events before the 2000s. The cars and trucks that forged the legend of the Dakar will be making a comeback too…

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