Brian Joss –
For Giniel de Viliers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz, the 2015 Rally of Morocco will always be a case of ‘what could have been’, especially if they hadn’t lost a mass of time on the rally’s opening stage. But all of that is behind them now, as the pair capped a solid performance in Morocco by piloting their Dakar-spec Toyota Hilux to a stage win on the final day of the tough, five-day event.
“It was fantastic to win the final stage,” beamed an ecstatic De Villiers from the coastal city of Agadir, where the rally came to a close on Friday October 9th. “But even more importantly, we achieved all our goals in terms of testing for the Dakar, which is really why we came here in the first place.”
De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz lost 12 minutes on the opening day of the rally, when a driveshaft on their vehicle failed as they pulled away – leaving them with only rear-wheel-drive for the entire 329 km stage. They ended the event in fourth place overall, just 19:22 behind overall winner Nasser Al-Attiyah (MINI).
“Had we not lost all that time on Day 1, a podium would’ve been a certainty, and we may well have been able to challenge for victory,” smiled De Villiers ruefully after the race ended.
As it turned out, De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz finished just over two minutes behind the fellow Toyota Hilux crew of Yazeed Al Rajhi and his navigator, Timo Gottschalk. They, in turn, were only 29 seconds behind Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev and navigator Konstantin Zhiltsov, who brought their Toyota Hilux home in second place overall.
For the Toyota SA Dakar Team’s Leeroy Poulter and navigator Rob Howie, who campaigned an older specification Toyota Hilux in Morocco, the rally proved that, in the right hands, even older equipment can still be a force to be reckoned with.
The pair ended the rally in sixth overall, some 31:22 behind winner Al-Attiyah. With that said, they were pipped to fifth place by WRC sensation Mikko Hirvonen (MINI), by just 11 seconds – an incredibly tight race, considering the total race distance of 1,358 km.
“We had a great tussle with Mikko,” said Poulter, who suffered from illness for two days of the event. “But in the end he just managed to edge us out on the final stage. Still, a fantastic experience.”
The final standings showed Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah at the top of the leaderboard, followed by Vasilyev (+16:45), Al Rajhi (+17:14) and De Villiers (+19:22).
For Toyota the Rally of Morocco 2015 was a display of power, with five Toyota Hilux race vehicles in the Top 10.
“Of course we are ecstatic with the result,” said the Team Principal of the Toyota SA Dakar Team, Glyn Hall. “But more than that, we are pleased with the amount of testing we managed to do for the Dakar. That was really our prime objective, and as such we can go home certain in the knowledge that we achieved all of our testing goals.”
The five-day Rally of Morocco started on Monday October 5, in the southern city of Zagora. Daily stages in the area followed, until the event relocated to the coastal region near the city of Agadir on Thursday October 8. The event drew to a close on Friday October 9, after a 237 km stage known as The Loop of Agadir.
For the Toyota SA Dakar Team the race to Dakar is in top gear at the moment. There is still a mass of work to be done, including some final testing, before the 2016 Toyota Hilux vehicles are shipped to South America, early in December. The Rally of Morocco was a crucial step in the team’s preparation, but there will be no let-up until the race vehicles are safely on their way to the Dakar.