Dakar rookies shine for Toyota Gazoo Racing 

22 January 2024
  • Guy Botterill crowned leading rookie driver at the 2024 Dakar Rally
  • Saood Variawa completes the rally at just 18 years old
  • Three TGR crews in the overall top 10 finishers

The 2024 edition of the Dakar Rally brought mixed results for Toyota Gazoo Racing, but while some of the team’s big names found the going particularly tough, it was the two rookie drivers who made their presence count.

This year, the TGR team fielded two rookies, Guy Botterill and Saood Variawa. Botterill, who competed in the SA National Rally Championship (NRC) for many years, winning multiple championships, was the top-performing rookie at this year’s Dakar, despite limited experience in big dunes. Together with co-driver Brett Cummings, Botterill recorded consistent stage results throughout the event, finishing in sixth place in the overall standings after 12 tough stages of racing in Saudi Arabia.

Saood Variawa became one of the youngest works drivers in the history of the sport, bringing his GR DKR Hilux EVO T1U home in 16th place overall, with Frenchman Francois Cazalet beside him in the car. The pair took a few stages to find their feet in the biggest automotive race on the planet, but once they settled into a rhythm, their pace was undeniable.

Variawa’s background is in track racing, where he has raced a wide variety of formulae despite his young age, most recently vying for the Global Touring Cars (GTC) title in South Africa.

The two rookies were supported by veteran Dakar racer Giniel de Villiers and his co-driver, Dennis Murphy. De Villiers, who has an enviable record in the Dakar Rally, was hampered by navigational issues, which cost him significant time early in the race. He also struggled with punctures in the rocky stages and ended in seventh place overall. He was also instrumental in the development and testing of the latest version of the GR DKR Hilux EVO T1U, effectively sharing his experience with the entire team.

In addition to the three South African drivers, TGR also included two international crews for Dakar 2024. While youngster Seth Quintero, from the USA, has a fair amount of Dakar experience, the other new signing, Lucas Moraes, was himself a rookie at Dakar one year ago. His performance in 2023 identified him as an emerging talent in the world of rally-raid racing, and he was an ideal addition to the works team for 2024.

Moraes, from Brazil, was partnered with Spanish co-driver Armand Monleon. The pair showed exceptional pace and maturity throughout the event, winning Stage 3 and moving into second place on the penultimate stage before disaster struck. A series of setbacks cost them significant time, dropping them down to ninth place overall.

Finally, Seth Quintero and co-driver Dennis Zenz (Germany) started Dakar 2024 in fine form, showing that the reputation they earned in the T3 category was not in error. But then, they had a hard impact with a rock that damaged the twin-turbo V6 engine in their Toyota Hilux. The team was forced to fit a new engine, which incurred a massive penalty, and dropped the pair out of contention. They continued to compete for good stage results, supporting their teammates with spare parts where needed. In the end, the best they could muster was 42nd overall – a result that belies their pace and potential.

By the time the dust settled over the last of Dakar 2024’s 12 stages, TGR had achieved sixth, seventh and ninth places in the Top 10; while three other Toyota Hilux crews also attained positions in the Top 10. This brought the Toyota Hilux representation in the Top 10 to 60 per cent, underlining the quality, durability and reliability of the GR DKR Hilux EVO T1U.

Team quotes

Shameer Variawa, SVR Team Principal: “Dakar 2024 is over, and as you know, we’ve had our ups and our downs. Unfortunately, you’ve got to take the good with the bad. It’s been a tough journey. It’s been challenging. Unfortunately, we lost the podium finish yesterday on Stage 11. But you know what? We’ll just keep on going and be stronger.”

Alain Dujardyn, TGR W2RC Team Principal: “Yes, I think these statistics are incredible because in overall of course all the five Gazoo Racing cars finished. But the end result is one Toyota Hilux in the top three, two in the top five and six in the top 10. So, it’s a remarkable achievement for the Toyota brand and testimony Hilux’s quality, durability and reliability.”

Guy Botterill: “We got a puncture quite early on in today’s stage, so we had to take it easy. Brett was unbelievable throughout the race. I can’t believe we got to the end, and to finish sixth is unbelievable.”

Giniel de Villiers: “It’s obviously not really the way we wanted it to finish, but we’re here. Thanks to the team, they did a great job. So we’re happy to be here, another one done. Thanks also to Dennis, as well as all our mechanics who worked on the car. It was certainly a very tough Dakar this year, and we’re very happy to be at the finish.”

Saood Variawa: “It’s unbelievable, it’s 4,500km of pure racing, really the toughest race in the world. I didn’t expect anything like this, but we made it to the finish. The order I was given was to finish, and that’s what I did. And a few good stages along the way. To be 18 and finishing the Dakar in a factory team is incredible. I just want to say thank you to the team, thank you to Toyota for the opportunity and thank you to my co-driver and my family.”

Lucas Moraes: “To be honest, to be top 10 on my second Dakar is unbelievable. Of course, after last year’s third place, you always want to improve. As you put the helmet on, you just want to go flat-out. Today, we were disappointed with the dust, but we enjoyed the stage and pushed a lot. Overall, we are happy to finish. Thanks to the whole Toyota Gazoo Racing team for the amazing job; all the sponsors, SpeedMax and all the media, as well as all the fans in Brazil.”

Seth Quintero: “It was definitely a tough rally, and it’s not the way we wanted to go. But in hindsight, we learned a lot. We did a lot of testing, a lot of development, and had a lot of fun. But overall, I had a great time. And I can’t wait for the next race and the next Dakar.”

Dakar 2024 Stage 12 results

1203S. Loeb / F. LurquinBAHRAIN RAID XTREME1h 39min 41sec
2221G. De Mevius / X. PanseriOVERDRIVE RACING+5:09
3214V. Zala / P. FiuzaX-RAID ARIJUS TEAM+5:21
4211G. Chicherit / A. WinocqOVERDRIVE RACING+5:29
5217K. Holowczyc / L. KurzejaX-RAID MINI JCW TEAM+5:55
11206L. Moraes / A. MonleonTOYOTA GAZOO Racing+8:20
13216S. Quintero / D. ZenzTOYOTA GAZOO Racing+8:45
18243G. Botterill / B. CummingsTOYOTA GAZOO Racing+10:52
19209G. De Villiers / D. MurphyTOYOTA GAZOO Racing+11:07
22226S. Variawa / F. CazaletTOYOTA GAZOO Racing+12:04

Dakar 2024 final standings

1#204C. Sainz / L. CruzTeam Audi Sport48h 15min 18sec
2221G. De Mevius / X. PanseriOverdrive Racing+1:20:25
3203S. Loeb / F. LurquinBahrain Raid Xtreme+1:29:12
4211G. Chicherit / A. WinocqOverdrive Racing+1:35:59
5208M. Prokop / V. ChytkaOrlen Jipocar Team+2:16:43
6243G. Botterill / B. CummingsTOYOTA GAZOO Racing+2:40:33
7209G. De Villiers / D. MurphyTOYOTA GAZOO Racing+2:50:26
9206L. Moraes / A. MonleonTOYOTA GAZOO Racing+3:03:12
16226S. Variawa / F. CazaletTOYOTA GAZOO Racing+5:54:41
42216S. Quintero / D. ZenzTOYOTA GAZOO Racing+69:04:43

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Dakar rookies shine for Toyota Gazoo Racing 


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