Qatari racing legend Nasser Al-Attiyah, partnered by navigator Mathieu Baumel, won the Baja Aragon in Spain this weekend, making it four victories in a row for the South-African built Toyota Hilux. The pair missed the opening round of the 9-round season, but find themselves at the top of the standings nonetheless. They were 58 points clear of their nearest rivals, Yazeed al Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk (MINI) going into the Baja Aragon, with the latest standings awaiting ratification by the sport’s governing body.
Al-Attiyah started the final stage of the three-day race with a deficit over Peugeot’s Carlos Sainz, after struggling with the dust from slower competitors early in the race, but dug deep to take the stage win by 1:26.0 – enough to win the 2016 Baja Aragon Spain by just 19 seconds.
“This was a tough victory for us,” said Al-Attiyah after completing the race in the town of Teruel, some 250 km to the east of Madrid. “Carlos pushed hard, and we really had to find something extra on the final day. But the Toyota never had any problems, and we knew we could eke out a bit more from it on the closing stage.”
The race vehicle is run by Overdrive Racing from Belgium – a highly experienced and capable outfit, with strong ties to Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, where the recent race-winning vehicle was built. This same vehicle finished the 2016 Dakar in third place, in the hands of Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz.
The Toyota Hilux has clearly been good for Al-Attiyah, as he remains unbeaten in this year’s championship. The Qatari started his 2016 season with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in the United Arab Emirates. He gave the Toyota Hilux its maiden victory there, before moving on to his home event in the form of the Sealine Cross-Country Rally in Qatar. A second victory in Qatar saw Al-Attiyah take the lead in the championship.
Next up was the Italian Baja, where Al-Attiyah again score maximum points, driving the Toyota Hilux. This was followed by his latest victory on the BajaAragon in Spain.
In the meantime, former Dakar winner Nani Roma has joined the swelling ranks of star drivers for Toyota Hilux. The Spaniard entered the Baja Aragon in Spain, and posted the third-fastest time on the opening stage. However, some bad luck put paid to his progress on Stage 3, when a minor crash took him and navigator Alex Haro out of the race.
Roma joins former Dakar winners Al-Attiya and De Villiers as part of the growing Toyota Hilux line-up, and he will compete the remainder of the 2016 FIA Cross-Country World Cup with Overdrive Racing, behind the wheel of a Toyota Hilux.
With the 2017 Dakar now just six months away, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), organisers of the event, have announced that they will follow the FIA’s directive to allow the Toyota Hilux to run with a slightly larger air restrictor than in 2016.
“The main reason for this is that the average altitude for the 2017 event will be over 2,000 metres above sea level. The FIA makes provision for high altitude races, by stipulating different size restrictors for higher altitudes,” explains Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall.
The recent announcement sees the Toyota Hilux’s air restrictor grow from 37mm to 38mm, which makes a significant difference in terms of engine performance.
“In addition to our gain, the ASO has also announced that the Peugeot teams will have to run restrictors of 38mm, rather than the 39mm restrictors they used in the 2016 event, if they use the same turbocharger system. This should go a long way towards leveling out the playing field,” concludes Hall.
Details of the 2017 Dakar route are yet to be announced, but it has already been announced that Paraguay will play host to the start of the race, with stages in Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, and the finish in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.
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