Toyota Gazoo Racing is in a competitive position as the 2021 Dakar Rally reaches its mid-point Rest Day at Ha’il after the first week of competition. The sixth stage brought the rally from the town of Al Qaisumah to the city of Ha’il via a timed section that was shortened to 347 kilometres to accommodate late arriving competitors from the previous stage.
Nasser Al-Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel, the leading Toyota Hilux in the overall standings, finished the stage in third place, and retained their second position overall, slightly reducing their gap to the lead to 5min 53sec. Giniel de Villiers and Alex Haro opened the road after their win on Stage 5, but they lost 22min 20sec due to continued pain Giniel is experiencing with his neck as well as two punctures. Despite this, the pair moved up into top 10 in the overall standings. Stage 6 brought another solid result for Shameer Variawa and Dennis Murphy, who finished in 16th on the stage, and moved to 32nd in the overall standings.
The 2021 edition of the Dakar Rally started with a Prologue on January 2 to determine starting positions on the outskirts of Jeddah. Nasser and Mathieu placed their Toyota Hilux in the best possible start position for Stage 1 after finishing fastest on the 11-kilometre route. Dakar debutant Henk Lategan and co-driver Brett Cummings demonstrated their capabilities and would start their first Dakar Rally together in seventh position. Giniel and Alex encountered a throttle response problem at the start of the Prologue and finished in 18th position, while teammates Shameer Variawa and Dennis Murphy came in 26th.
Giniel and Alex were the best-performing Toyota Gazoo Racing crew with an eighth place finish after the 277-kilometre opening stage from Jeddah to Bisha, suffering three punctures that cost them valuable time. Prologue winners, Nasser and Mathieu, found it tough to open the route and lost 12min 34sec to the leaders, completing the first day in 10th place. Shameer and Dennis, who started from the 26th position on the road, put in a solid performance to finish the opening stage in 12th, 14min 59sec adrift of the leaders. The challenging first stage saw Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings lose 18min 31sec to the leaders, posting the 14th-fastest time. They suffered multiple punctures and found the navigation tough, but were in a good position for Stage 2, which featured a timed section of 457 kilometres between Bisha and Wadi Ad-Dawasir.
Winners of the 2019 Dakar Rally, Nasser and Mathieu, recorded their first stage win of the 2021 event by posting the fastest time on Stage 2. The strong stage result propelled them into third position in the overall standings, 9min 14sec behind the lead. After a good performance on the opening stage, Giniel and Alex lost more than 45 minutes due to navigational difficulties, completing the stage in 38th place. To make matters worse, the pair were penalised for missing a waypoint and ended in 23rd overall after Stage 2. Henk and Brett finished Stage 2 in 14th despite losing time after getting stuck in the dunes at the start of the stage. They lost additional time due to navigational problems and were in 16th position in the overall standings at that point. Shameer and Dennis lost over two hours on Stage 2 after getting severely stuck in the soft dunes near the start of the timed section.
Nasser and Mathieu recorded their second consecutive stage win when they powered their Toyota Hilux to the fastest time over 403 kilometres of dunes and sandy tracks that made up Stage 3 of the event, a loop starting and ending in Wadi Ad-Dawasir. The strong performance moved them into second position in the overall standings, just over five minutes behind the lead. Newcomer Henk and navigator Brett drove a perfect stage to record the second fastest time, trailing teammates Nasser and Mathieu by just 2min 27sec. The impressive performance rocketed the pair to seventh position overall as the leading rookie crew, 47min 25sec from the lead. Dakar veteran Giniel and navigator Alex started the day as the 17th car into the stage which brought more challenges for the embattled crew. Having lost more than two hours on the previous day, the pair suffered a broken driveshaft early on in Stage 3, which not only cost them time for repairs, but dropped them into the dust of slower competitors. Two punctures added to their woes, losing 37min 47sec. Shameer and Dennis also suffered a broken driveshaft early on, followed by five punctures, costing the crew more than two hours but they improved to 44th place overall.
Stage 4 of Dakar 2021 brought a third consecutive stage win for Nasser and Mathieu after they beat their closest competitor by 11sec over the 337-kilometre timed section between Wadi Ad-Dawasir and the Saudi capital Riyadh. The pair, second in the overall standings, reduced their gap to the overall lead to under five minutes despite their position as pathfinder at the head of the field. Henk and Brett pushed teammate Nasser throughout the day, even beating the Qatari through some waypoints. Henk showed maturity and skill to finish third on the stage, trailing Nasser by just 1min 30sec and moving up into fourth place in the overall standings. Giniel and navigator Alex initially looked on course for a solid result on Stage 4, but Giniel suffered from neck pains and had to reduce speed in the rough sections. They also lost time towards the end of the stage due to a navigational error to finish 15th. Shameer and navigator Dennis recorded a solid performance on Stage 4 despite starting down the order, and in the dust of trucks and slower competitors. The pair lost some time due to a navigational error near the end of the stage to improve to 43rd in the overall standings.
Opening the route once again on Stage 5, Nasser and Mathieu completed the 456-kilometre Riyadh to Al Qaisumah stage fourth fastest. The pair were able to limit their time loss to the leader, remaining in second position overall, 6min 11sec from the lead. Giniel, together with navigator Alex, mounted an impressive comeback after several challenging days to win Stage 5. Giniel and Alex were the 22nd car into the stage and made the most of this road position to win the stage by nearly a minute, leapfrogging from 22nd to 12th in the overall standings. Henk and Brett, who impressed on Stages 3 and 4, suffered an accident at the 19-kilometre mark after striking a ditch which sent their Hilux flipping end-over-end. Both were able to exit their Hilux, which came to rest on its side, unaided, and did not suffer serious injuries. After an initial medical check by the Dakar 2021 medical team, Henk was transported to Riyadh for further medical attention for his shoulder. As a result, the crew of no. 332 retired from Dakar 2021, bringing an end to the fairy tale debut for the young driver. Stage 5 also saw Shameer and Dennis record another solid stage, even though they started down the order again which placed them in the dust of competitors. They finished as the 28th car on the stage and improved their overall position from 43rd place to 38th, despite suffering two punctures and dealing with limited engine power that hampered their progress in the dunes.
With the Dakar Rally at its mid-point, the technical crews will now disassemble all three race cars before repairing or replacing any worn parts and reassembling the cars in preparation for Stage 7. Following the Rest Day, crews will go straight into the Marathon Stage of Dakar 2021 which will see them journey from Ha’il to Sakaka on a gruelling 471-kilometre route over sand mountains and 100 kilometres of undulating terrain. Crews will have to service their own vehicles without assistance from the technical crews before taking on Stage 8 from Sakaka to Neom, where 375 kilometres of sandy terrain and stony tracks await. After the Marathon Stage, there will be a further four stages before Dakar 2021 concludes back in Jeddah on January 15.
Glyn Hall, Team Principal: “Today really was quite a good day for the team. Nasser was able to take some time off Stéphane Peterhansel but a puncture near the end probably lost him most of the time he had gained earlier in the stage. Giniel had two punctures, but his biggest problem was his neck which is still causing him much pain. Shameer was good today, despite one puncture. I gave him the target of 15th place in order to set him up for a good position on the Marathon Stage, and he came home in 16th, so I’m very happy with that. We’re happy to have all three cars here and no serious mechanical issues. So, tomorrow we’ll do our normal Rest Day strip-and-prepare to make sure that we’re fully prepared for the final week of the race.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah (No. 301): “Stage 6 was another difficult day, but we’re happy to have finished the first week of Dakar in the second position overall. We had two punctures today which were not easy for us to manage, but we’ll try our best to come up with some good strategies for the next week’s stages and continue to do our best in order to win this Dakar.”
Giniel de Villiers (No. 304): “There was a lot of sand on the stage today with lots of sharp, broken dunes. But, actually, a very nice stage to drive despite the continued neck pains that made it difficult to maintain our pace. We had two punctures which allowed Stéphane Peterhansel, Nasser and Yazeed Al Rajhi to pass us. But from the middle of the stage, Brian Baragwanath and I stuck together and completed the stage in close formation. We would have loved to be in a better position after the first week, but we lost a lot of time early in the rally. It is what it is and we’ll keep on pushing. In this race, a lot of things seems to be happening, so it won’t be over before the finish.”
Shameer Variawa (No. 330): “We started as the 55th vehicle into the stage this morning and we ended up in 16th place at the end of the day, so it was a really good day for us. The terrain suited our style, being both fast and rough. We followed a number of guys through the dunes, then we had a puncture. But once we changed it, we left them behind in the sand. Overall, a good day for us.”
2021 Dakar Rally Stage 6 Results:
3rd No. 301 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel, +7min 16sec
8th No. 304 Giniel de Villiers/Alex Haro, +22min 20sec
16th No. 330 Shameer Variawa/Dennis Murphy, +35min 35sec
2021 Dakar Rally Overall Results After Stage 6:
2nd No. 301 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel, +5min 53sec
9th No. 304 Giniel de Villiers/Alex Haro, +2hr 12min 12sec
32nd No. 330 Shameer Variawa/Dennis Murphy, +6hr 28min 33sec