Johannesburg - South Africa's Team Imperial Toyota have set themselves up for a stellar performance at next year's Dakar Rally after preparing themselves in advance, Giniel de Villiers said on Monday.
De Villiers and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz finished third overall in the cars category in the gruelling two-week race which ended on Sunday.
Having prepared the Toyota Hilux vehicles in accordance with stricter rules, which come into effect in 2013, De Villiers believed the South Africans had a head start.
"Our aim was to crack the top five, since we knew we were at a disadvantage with regard to the Minis," he said.
"Our car was designed based on the future rules, so we had a power deficit compared with them, especially on sandy surfaces.
"But our car was completely reliable and our team did a fantastic job."
De Villiers finished more than an hour behind French winner Stephane Peterhansel and 41 minutes behind Spaniard Nani Roma, who placed second.
The South African, who won the race in 2009, said he and his new team would put up a stronger challenge in next year's race.
"This is an excellent result, finishing on the podium on our first try tastes like a win," De Villiers said.
"The rules are going to change next year, so we'll be even closer and the battle will be awesome. There's no doubt we'll try and win next year."
The all-South African pairing of Duncan Vos and Robert Howie added depth to the team's performance, finishing 11th overall.
Further back, the other South African duo of Mark Corbett, on debut, and co-driver Francois Jordaan managed to hold their own, completing the race in 24th position in their Century Racing CR4.
The only other South African driver in the cars division, veteran Alfie Cox, bombed out early in the race after his Volvo XC60RR burned to ashes in the first stage.
Darryl Curtis led the South African charge in the bikes category, storming through the field in the second half of the race to finish 22nd on a KTM 450 Replica.
Countryman Greg Raaf, a member of the same KTM team, also put in a relatively strong finish, but struggled to close the gap as he trailed home in 83rd place.
Neil Scott-Williams and Iain Stevenson, the only other South African riders who started the race, withdrew on stages seven and five respectively.
Charles Rossouw, sharing a vehicle with French driver Philippe Premat and fellow co-pilot Arnaud Missagia, was the only South African representative in the trucks category.
Rossouw and his teammates finished 49th in their Actros 6x6 Mercedes.
The race was held over 8 400km between Mar Del Plata, Argentina, and Lima, Peru.
It will be staged in South America for the fifth successive time in 2013 after security threats in West Africa forced organisers to move the race in 2009.