A solid performance by Toyota Gazoo Racing SA's Leeroy Poulter and navigator Rob Howie (#319) saw the crew lead Stage 12 of Dakar 2016 for nearly five hours, narrowly losing out on their first stage win. The pair took the lead from the first waypoint in the 481 km-long stage between San Juan and Villa Carlos Paz, and only relinquished that position within half an hour of the finish. The stage was won by MINI's Miko Hirvonen, with Nasser al-Attiyah in second and Poulter/Howie finishing third.
"Leeroy and Rob drove a stunning stage today, and remain in fifth place overall,"
said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal Glyn Hall, from the bivouac at Villa Carlos Paz.
"They looked on for a stage win, but missed out on that by just 45 seconds. And that after five-and-a-half hours of flat out racing! The excitement in the bivouac was immense, as the team watched Leeroy and Rob increase their lead at every waypoint."
Their triumphant charge came to an end, however, when they caught up with teammates Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz (#301), who were fighting a battle of their own at the time. Poulter/Howie fell foul to a tightening corner, which they couldn't discern in the dust. They left the road and lost two minutes extracting their Toyota Hilux from the deep rut in which they came to rest. Even so, the pair lead the stage until the penultimate waypoint, and very nearly chalked up their first win.
In the joy of Poulter/Howie's performance, it was easy to miss an equally solid performance by the lads in car #301. De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz ran in second place for the bulk of the stage, slipping to a time just 00:57 behind the winners. Good enough for fourth on the stage, and more importantly, good enough to cement their third position overall.
"We ran into the dust of Nani Roma (MINI) after about 250 km. And then we were trapped behind him for the rest of the route,"
explained De Villiers after completing the mammoth stage.
"But overall we had a great run, and the Hilux never missed a beat."
For Hall, the reliability of the Toyota Hilux has been of paramount importance throughout Dakar 2016, and as in years gone by, the South African-built machines didn't disappoint:
"In South Africa our longest cross-country races are significantly shorter than today's stage, so we've been pushing them harder and further than at any point in the local championship. The good news is that we didn't suffer a single mechanical failure, and even though we still have a short stage to complete tomorrow, we're very confident of the reliability of our cars."
Further back, Yazeed al Rajhi and navigator Timo Gottschalk (#305) posted the 11th-fastest time of the day, 11:50 behind the stage winners. The pair battled to make up time, mainly to the thick dust that hung over Stage 12, but managed to retain their tenth position in the standings.
"Overall we are proud of everything we've achieved this year,"
"We've taken on some of the biggest players in the sport again, and proved ourselves worthy contenders. Leeroy and Rob's performance today underlined the fact that we have the necessary talent in our team, and we were very disappointed to lose out on the stage win."
With the threat of a penalty hanging over race leader Stephane Peterhansel's (Peugeot) head, to be decided by the FIA in due course, Dakar 2016 still isn't over yet, and the standings may well change days after tomorrow's closing ceremony. As far as the racing goes, all that remains of Dakar 2016 is Stage 13, a 180 km-long test that, together with a liaison of 519 km, will bring the crews to the Argentine city of Rosario.
The traditional finish podium will take place on the banks of the Paraña River, where the race got under way in 2014.
This will bring to an end a race of 9,597 km across Argentina and Bolivia - without a doubt the world's toughest motorsport event.