It was a day of high drama in the desert near the Qatari capital of Doha, as Toyota Gazoo Racing SA continued their quest for victory. Unfortunately, Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Robert Howie were forced to retire from the race, after they hit a ditch just 30 km into the 350 km-long Stage 2, and landed hard. The Toyota Hilux survived the impact unscathed, as did the driver - but Howie injured his back and was unable to continue.
"It was a very unfortunate event," said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, from the bivouac at the Losail International Race Circuit, near Doha. "But sometimes a hard landing can wreak havoc with the crew, and in this case Rob ended up in immense pain."
Howie was quickly transported to a hospital in the Qatari capital for X-Rays and a CT scan. The latter revealed four compression fractures in his thoracic vertebrae, though three of them are likely old injuries. The fourth fracture is new, and the doctors have decided to keep him in hospital for two days in order to ensure that there are no complications.
"This means a disappointing end to Giniel and Rob's race, which is extremely frustrating for all of us," said Hall. "With that said, we are thankful that Rob isn't in any danger."
Teammates Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, in the meantime, made light work of the tricky stage. The pair powered their Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux to a comprehensive stage victory, beating their nearest rivals - Jakub Przygonski and Tom Colsoul, in the X-Raid MINI - by 16:01:00.
Their result on Stage 2 of the 5-stage event puts Al Attiyah/Baumel in control of the event, but with another 1,040 km to go, a lot can still happen.
"We are very happy with our performance so far," said Al Attiyah after returning to the bivouac. "The car has also been extremely good in the rough conditions, and we are confident that we'll continue our good run going forward."
Aron Domzala and co-driver Maciej Marton (Toyota Hilux) set the third-fastest time on Stage 2, and find themselves in third position in the overall standings as a result, some 09:04:00 behind Przygonski/Colsoul.
Stage 3 is another long one, with 338 km of rocky tracks and dunes to negotiate. As in the past, the crews will start and finish near the Losail International Race Circuit. Two more long stages will complete the event, and the 2018 Qatar Cross-Country Rally concludes on Sunday, 22 April, in the Qatari capital of Doha.
STAGE 2 RESULTS:
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 2:
Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa Acknowledges Its Sponsors and Specialist Official Suppliers and Technical Partners
Toyota enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Total, Toyota Financial Services and the Innovation Group. Also Hallspeed, Imperial Toyota, SKF, Spanjaard, OMP, NGK, Donaldson, Mastercraft, Edgecam, 3M, Bandit Signs, Shatterprufe, Supreme Springs, Smith’s Manufacturing, TRD, Peritus Forex, 4x4 Mega World, First National Battery, Duxbury Netgear and Plan-C Productions.