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  • Writer's pictureLinda Andrews - Editorial Assistant, Nuse Online

First Dakar 2024 Stage Win For Toyota Gazoo Racing



Toyota Gazoo Racing celebrated their first stage victory at Dakar 2024, courtesy of Lucas Moraes and Armand Monleon, who won the tough third test in their GR Hilux EVO T1U.


The pair started the stage, which took the crews from the bivouac at Al Duwadimi to the town of Al Salamiya, as the ninth car on the road, but powered to a win thanks to a clean run with no punctures, as well as pin-point navigation.


Moraes and Monleon took victory by just 9 sec over their nearest competitor, despite having covered more than 270 racing miles. Their performance not only bagged them the stage win, together with a good haul of W2RC points, but also raised them to fourth in the overall standings. Their deficit to the overall leader is now 9min 17sec. The race leader – Yazeed Al Rajhi – is driving a near-identical, privately entered Toyota Hilux T1U.


Stage 3 brought trouble for TGR’s Giniel de Villiers and co-driver, Dennis Murphy. They suffered two punctures early on and were forced to slow significantly. They also had to deal with the dust thrown up by the cars that had passed them while they changed the tyres,. The best they could muster in the circumstances was the 16th-fastest time, 19min 42sec behind Moraes and Monleon. As far as the overall standings go, they are in 14th place, 36min 56sec behind the leaders.


While de Villier and Murphy were disappointed, they suffered one fewer puncture than teammates Seth Quintero and Dennis Zenz. The American driver lost three tyres over the course of the stage and had to wait for assistance. Help arrived swiftly in the form of Moraes and Monleon, who paused briefly to hand one of their spares to their teammates. This show of camaraderie could have cost them their stage win, but their good deed was rewarded, and Quintero and Zenz were able to continue.


Even though Quintero and Zenz had one fresh tyre on their car, they still had to be cautious over the closing miles, and in the end, they lost 22min 42sec on the day. This dropped them down the order and out of the top 10 in the overall standings; they now trail the race leaders by 27min 18sec.


Stage 3 also brought a challenge for TGR’s young gun, Saood Variawa, and his French co-driver, Francois Cazalet. The pair started the day as the 40th car on the road but fought their way through the dust of slower cars and into 21st place on the stage. They also struggled with navigation in two places, having to double-back to find waypoints. Despite this, they relinquished only 23min 37sec to the stage winners, and are in 18th place in the overall standings.


TGR’s final crew, Guy Botterill and co-driver, Brett Cummings, had a great start to Dakar 2024, but Stage 3 bit hard. The pair had their first puncture barely 30 miles into the special stage; and a second 60 miles further on. This forced them into survival mode, as they were out of spares, only to suffer a third puncture 90 miles from the finish. Luckily this one didn’t fully deflate the tyre, and the crew were able to nurse their GR Hilux EVO T1U home by. They lost 31min 53sec in the process and are in 17th place overall.


The route was also the start of a ‘mini-Marathon’ stage for the race, as the technical crews were given only two hours to repair and prepare the cars for Stage 4. To compound the challenge, the race crews camped at a remote bivouac without the support of their teams after Stage 3, before taking on the next stage. This will consist of a liaison of 123 miles, joining the remote bivouac at Al Salamiya with the start of the route. Next up will be a timed section of 186 miles, run mainly on dirt tracks, with a small dune section in the mix. Finally, the crews will cover a second liaison of 125 miles to reach the bivouac at Al-Hofuf.


Team quotes

Shameer Variawa, SVR Team Principal:

“Any day where you win a Dakar stage is a good one, and I would like to congratulate Lucas and Armand on winning a very tough stage indeed. For the rest of our crews, the day was largely ruined by punctures, though we were happy to see them all at the two-hour service without any major mechanical problems."

"While they are a bit further back than we’d have liked, this has been a particularly tough start to the race, and reaching this point without any problems is testament to the toughness of our GR Hilux EVO T1U.”


Lucas Moraes: “It is really unbelievable! But the day goes to Armand. The navigation was insanely hard, but we hit our marks. I just managed to keep the car in one piece and no punctures, with a good rhythm for sure. But Armand was really on point, and we must thank the whole team. One more, one less day, as we say in Brazil, and I gotta keep going!”


Seth Quintero: “I didn’t want to play the ‘rubber band game’ today, but unfortunately got unlucky with a couple of punctures and that kind of just ruined our day, to be honest. But there’s a long way to go and I can’t get too upset. I mean, we’re here. We didn’t lose too much time. We’re probably still up there. So yeah, I think just got a little unlucky today. Just need some luck on our side. Hopefully tomorrow we’re up there, but I don’t want to continue playing this flip flop game. We’ve been off the podium every other day. So, maybe tomorrow we’ll get back on the podium, and hopefully we can keep it that way for the rest of the rally.”


Guy Botterill: “That was really difficult for us. Around 50 km in we got a puncture, and then maybe another 100km later, we got another, and then we were out of spare wheels. With about 130km to go we had another flat, but we were watching it on the monitoring system. The tyre was going down slowly, so we had to keep on stopping and putting air in the tyre. We weren’t racing today – we were surviving.”


Giniel de Villiers: “Another tough day. Unfortunately, we had two punctures after 70km, and then it was party over. Then, we were in the dust, and I just had to cruise. It was impossible to push, because if you have another flat tyre, you have a big problem. You won’t see the end. So it was very frustrating, but we made it to the end.”


Saood Variawa: “It has been a tough three tough three days so far. Today, we went into the stage and wanted to up our pace to catch the guys ahead. Which we did in the first part. We caught quite a few guys and overtook them. Unfortunately, there were two waypoints that were a bit tricky. We lost quite a bit of time there, and also in the last one that we couldn’t find. We came back through a canyon and one of the other competitors overtook us, so we were stuck in his dust from then on.”


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