Three South African-designed and -built Toyota pickups were in the top ten in the overall standings in the Dakar Rally on Friday.
As the 33rd Dakar Rally in Argentina, Chile and Peru entered its third-last day with a 246 km special stage between Arequipa and Nazca in Peru on Friday, the South African team of 2009 Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers and four-time national off-road champion Duncan Vos are doing their country proud in their Hilux double cab pickups.
De Villiers has used all the experience he's accumulated over eight previous Dakar Rallies and the skill that makes him one of the world's top endurance rally drivers to manoeuvre his truck into a fine third place overall after 11 stages and some 3 500 kilometres of racing since the rally started in Argentina on 1 January. Team-mate Vos and regular co-driver Rob Howie, have distinguished themselves by staying in the top 10 for the past four days in their first attempt at the world's longest and toughest motor race. They are 10th overall.
Argentine privateer Lucio Alvarez, in a third Johannesburg-built Hilux and racing under the Belgian Team Overdrive banner, is currently sixth overall.
Toyota Motorsport boss and Dakar team principal Glyn Hall is understandably proud of the fact that all three trucks designed and built by his team have survived the rigours of the Dakar so far, particularly as not one of them has suffered any mechanical problems whatsoever. Of the 161 cars that set out from Mar del Plata in Argentina on 1 January, just 90 lined up for the start of Friday's stage 12.
"It's been a mega team effort that started in Johannesburg in October last year," said Hall. "The Dakar is a relentless challenge, with each day presenting its own set of difficulties. Our drivers and co-drivers have been magnificent so far and I can't speak too highly of a very hard-worked team of engineers and technicians who have had little sleep for the past two weeks.
"The fact that we have Giniel in the top three and all three cars in the top 10 with three days to go is a huge achievement on Toyota's first attempt at the Dakar with the Hilux.
"We elected to build our cars to the 2013 Dakar specs, which are more restrictive in terms of performance, so we're giving away a great deal in terms of power and torque to our main rivals, the all-wheel-drive, diesel Minis, which are powered by twin-turbo, 3-litre BMW engines, and the 6-litre V8 Hummers. These cars are really prototypes, whereas the Hilux has many of its original parts including a production V8 Toyota engine. This all bodes very well for us for next year's race.
"But this race is far from over and for the final days we have to keep our focus, take no chances and ensure that we protect our current positions to the finish in Lima on Sunday."
Friday's 246-km special stage between Arequipa and Nazca is the last of two tough stages remaining before the short (29 km) final stage into the finish in Lima on Sunday. A highlight will be a 20-km stretch of the uninterrupted Nazca shifting sand dunes at the end of the stage with very soft sand that makes cresting the dunes at the right speed a real necessity. Nazca is famous for its mysterious motifs, called geoglyphs, carved into the ground more than 2 000 years ago and visible only from the air.