The Toyota Hilux that will be taking part in next year’s Dakar Rally in the Arabian Desert. Photo: Toyota
The Toyota Hilux that will be taking part in next year’s Dakar Rally in the Arabian Desert. Photo: Toyota

South African crews poised to impress in the Arabian Desert

By Supplied Time of article published Dec 28, 2021

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Cape Town — It will be a case of tradition versus revolution when the 2022 Dakar Rally blasts off from Jeddah in the Saudi Arabian Desert on Saturday 1 January. The epic race runs through to Saturday 15 January 2022 as it enters a new, electrified era with future battery technology set to take on tried and tested combustion propulsion for the first time. And it’s also a big fortnight for Southern Africa, with a record number of local crews competing.

Same crews, all new Hiluxes for Gazoo attack

Starting with the 97 cars entered, the quartet of Toyota Gazoo Racing GR DKR Hilux T1+s will be of primary interest to South African Dakar fans. With two previous winners in the team backed up by a couple of South African Cross Country champions driving the all-new for ’22 fat-tyred, long travel suspension machines running torquier turbocharged V6 engines rather than V8s for the first time, the team is confident of a better run.

The suspension and tyre changes at last allow Toyota Gazoo Racing to compete on even terms with the buggies, which more recently suffered less punctures. And previously enjoyed a turbo advantage at Andean altitudes. It also means that the pressure is on the team to perform, but with Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel fresh off their fifth FIA world title and second in Dakar ’21 in car 201, the Hilux team is ready to lead from the front.

They’ll be backed by four all-South African crews. Previous winner and SA Dakar hero Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy in car 207 sacrificed their South African championship to develop the all-new Toyota GR DKR Hilux. Last year’s Dakar sensation, Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings meanwhile won their third SA title on the trot and will drive Dakar Hilux number 225. And Shameer Variawa and Danie Stassen are keen to improve on last years finish. Giniel De Villiers has however tested positive for Covid 19 and has to show a negative test before heading to Jeddah. Toyota Gazoo WRC star Kris Meeke is on standby to take over Hilux 207 should Giniel remain positive by the weekend.

Audi's incredible electric quattro Dakar attack

Toyota has several rivals this year, including an all-new and radical, if unproven trio of Audi Sport RS Q e-trons. In the hands of two more men who have made Dakar their own in recent years. Mr Dakar, Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger want Peter’s 15th Dakar win in car 200. Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz want number 4 in car 202. They’re backed by DTM and WRX expert, Swedish rookie Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist in car 224.

The Audis certainly are radical. Designed to develop the brand’s battery electric future in the most arduous of conditions, they are powered by electric motors powered by batteries… charged up on the run by a turbo 2-litre petrol engine. Audi trusts that this is the first step towards one day winning the Dakar on battery power alone. The Audis have tested in secret but not raced before. So their pace, and reliability on debut, remains to be seen.

However the rookie Audis perform and persevere, there is more than enough competition to keep them and the Gazoo Toyotas on their toes. Like the Prodrive BRX Hunters, which have also now been uprated to fat tyre long travel T1+ spec. They also run turbo petrol V6 engines and have three crack crews backed by a multiple WRC team and now have a Dakar’s worth of experience under the belt, too.

WRC gods, Loeb, Prodrive want to win

And with none other than French WRC god Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin in car 211, and multiple Dakar bike and ’14 car winner Nani Roma and Alex Bravo in 204. Backed up by able Argentine Orlando Terranova and Daniel Carreras in 221, it would be a fool who ignores this Arab-backed English equipe. But it may very well be another splendid South African race car manufacturer that is the Kyalami Gazoo Toyota team’s greatest threat.

Built just minutes away from Toyota’s northern Johannesburg base, the impressive fleet of Century Racing CR6s has to be a major Dakar 2022 threat. Headed by French Dakar expert Mathieu Serradori and Loic Minaudier in SRT Racing CR6 number 212, and SA crew Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer, more than 10 Century racers will compete this year. Four of them being all-South African crews alongside car 230, Baragwanath and Cremer. SA Cross Country legend Chris Visser is a late entry in place of Century founder Mark Corbett alongside Rodney Burke in Century number 253.

Dakar veteran Corbett has been out of luck over the Dakar years, losing out the year the race was cancelled at the 12th hour and later with a back injury, which has sadly returned to keep him out yet again. Visser and Burke will be backed by rookies, former SA rally driver Schalk Burger and Henk Janse van Vuuren in car 271 and two more SA Cross Country regulars, Ernest Roberts and Henry Kohne in 286. Among the Century fleet, another crew to stand out are Dakar, World Rallycross and Touring Car veterans, Dutch twins Tim and Tom Coronel sharing driving and notes duties in CR6 number 247.

Century and other star South African prospects

There’s another South African entry in Daniel Schröder and Ryan Bland’s WCT Red-Lined VK50 among a fleet of SA-built privateer Toyota Hiluxes. Watch for Saudi home hero Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Michael Orr in car 205, Dutchman Erik van Loon and Sébastien Delaunay in 217, and Lithuanian Benediktas Vanagas and Filipe Palmeiro in 219, among them. Another bakkie to look out for is car 209. Pole Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytka’s Ford Raptor RS.

Don’t forget that a Mini John Cooper Works Buggy has won both the last two Dakars. They may have now slipped into private hands, the Minis will certainly still be formidable competitors. Especially in Pole Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk’s hands in car 203, with Russians Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov in 216, Argentine quartet Lucio Alvarez and Armand Monleon in 222 and Sebastian Halpern and Bernardo Graue’s 223 in support.

Toyota of course last won the Dakar three years ago, with Attiyah in the final South American race in Peru. But it was all about Peugeot before that. Two 3008s still promise to be a thorn in everyone’s sides. Especially considering multiple bike winner, Frenchman Cyril Despres is still chasing his first car win with South African navigatrix Taye Perry in car 210. And wily Dubai Prince Khalid Al Qassimi and Dirk von Zitzewitz will be behind the wheel of car 206.

A brilliant depth of talent for Dakar 2022

For the rest of the cars, there are a number of 4×4 Minis including Spanish Dakar lady bike refugee Laia Sanz and Maurizio Gerini, Saudi local hero Yasir Seaidan and Alexey Kuzmich and reliable Russian Vladimir Vasilyev and Oleg Uperenko in an albeit BMW X5 bodied version of the giant all-wheel drive Dakar Mini.

The Chinese continue to make an ever improving Dakar impression. Guoyu Zhang and Hongyu Pan are back in a BAIC and Wei Han and Li Ma in a SMG buggy. Talking Dakar buggies, there’s an eclectic bunch of them this year. Double Le Mans winner and occasional WRC driver, Frenchman Romain Dumas and Rémi Boulanger will be out in a buggy built by Romain’s former Le Mans carmaker Rebellion.

Add MD Optimus pair, former MotoGP and WSBK winner, Spain’s Carlos Checa and Marco Alcayna, and Christian Lavieille and Johnny Aubert. Frenchmen Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq are always a Dakar threat, this year aboard a GCK Thunder.

Factory two-wheeler honour at stake

Moving on to the Dakar bikes for 2022, 149 two wheelers were confirmed as entries at the time of writing. Among them, it’s bound to be a battle of honour between the factory frontrunners. But there’s also more than enough Southern African interest too, with no less than nine local riders heading for the Arabian Desert.

Starting in front, KTM was originally a dirt bike manufacturer before expanding to all things two and now four wheels. The Austrian team has been beaten twice by Honda at the Dakar, since taking 19 Dakar bike wins on the trot. Now it wants that 20th win so badly, that is nicked Argentine reigning Dakar motorcycle champion Kevin Benavides from Honda to ride KTM number 1 this year.

Benavides joins an all-star Dakar line-up at KTM. Aussie double winner in 2016 and ’19 and former world enduro champion Toby Price is on bike 18, and Austria’s 2018 winner Matthias Walkner is riding in bib number 52 this year. Honda has not taken its refugee’s departure lightly and has a strong four-bike red team back to stem that orange tide for Dakar ’22.

Kalahari Ferrari Branch should be right on it

The first-ever American Dakar bike winner in 2000, Ricky Brabec leads the Honda attack on bike 2, backed up by Spaniard Joan Barreda on 88, Argentine Pablo Quintanilla on 7 and Chilean Jose Florimo on bike 11. Yamaha will be praying for reliability for Botswana’s multiple South African champion Ross Branch on number 16. American Andrew Short is on 29 and number 42, Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren, as it chases a first Dakar bike win since ’98.

Branch is not the only Southern African riding a factory machine. It’s been a fabulous Christmas for former Honda and Yamaha factory rider Aaron Mare, who received a late call up to replace Argentine Franco Caimi on a factory Hero. Gas Gas may be new to the Dakar, but the KTM division will arrive prepared. With 2017 winner, Brit Sam Sunderland aboard number 3 and Aussie Daniel Sanders on number 4. Husqvarna is another KTM offshoot, but it’s all change there. It has US rider Skyler Howes on its number 5 machine and Argentine Luciano Benavides on the number 77.

Sherco has Spain’s Lorenzo Santolino and Portuguese Rui Goncalves riding. And Newcomers Reijo have Spaniard Joan Pedrero Garcia and Bolivian Daniel Nosiglia Jager aboard. Privateers form the bulk for the entry, with French Marquis Xavier De Soultrait’s Husqvarna and KTM four, Italian MotoGP refugee Danilo Petrucci and Czech riders Martin Michek, Jan Brabec and Stefan Svitko noticeable among them.

Southern Africans ready to star

A sizeable Southern African contingent is also ready to impress among the Dakar bike privateers. All ride KTMs, led by ’21 SA Cross Country champion, rookie Bradley Cox following in Dakar hero dad Alfie’s footsteps on bike 49. Five of our riders will race in the ‘malle moto’ no-service Original class. The ever popular Stuart Gregory returns for his second malle moto ride on bike 84. Sadly number 117 Kirsten Landman has had to withdraw after contracting Covid 19.

The rest of their compatriots are all rookies. 2020 SA OR1 class champion, number 123 Charan Moore, Botswana rider John Kelly on machine number 115 and 153. Werner Kennedy will also all compete in the no service Original class. Walter Terblanche returns in number 87 and Mozambican Paulo Oliveira makes his debut on bike 116.

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