TOYOTA GAZOO Racing celebrated its first stage victory at Dakar 2024, courtesy of Lucas Moraes and Armand Monleon, who won the tough third stage in their GR Hilux EVO T1U. The pair started the stage, which took the crews from the bivouac at Al Duwadimi to the town of Al Salamiya, as the ninth car on the road, but powered to a stage win thanks to a clean run with no punctures, as well as pin-point navigation by Armand.
Lucas and Armand took the stage win by just 9sec over their nearest competitor, despite a highly challenging stage of 437km. Their performance not only bagged them the stage win, together with a good haul of W2RC points, but also pushed them up the overall standings to 4th place. Their deficit to the overall leader is now 9min 17sec. Remarkably, the race leader – Yazeed Al Rajhi – is driving a near-identical, privately entered Toyota Hilux T1U.
Stage 3 brought trouble for TGR’s Giniel de Villiers and co-driver, Dennis Murphy. They suffered two punctures early in the stage and were forced to slow down significantly. Unfortunately, they were then also stuck in the dust of the cars that had passed them while they changed the tyres, compounding their problems. The best they could muster in the circumstances was the 16th-fastest time, 19min 42sec behind Lucas and Armand. As far as the overall standings go, they now find themselves in 14th place, 36min 56sec behind the leaders after three stages.
While Giniel and Dennis were disappointed with their Stage 3 result, they suffered one fewer puncture than teammates Seth Quintero and Dennis Zenz. The American driver lost three tyres over the course of the stage and was forced to wait for assistance in order to continue. Assistance arrived swiftly, however, in the form of Lucas and Armand, who paused briefly to hand one of their spares to their teammates, before setting off again. This show of camaraderie may well have cost Lucas and Armand their stage win, given the narrow margin at the top of the standings, but their good deed was rewarded, and Seth/Dennis were able to continue.
Even though Seth and Dennis had one fresh tyre on their car, they still had to be cautious over the closing kilometres, and in the end, they lost 22min 42sec on the day. This dropped them down the order and out of the Top 10 in the overall standings, where they now trail the race leaders by 27min 18sec.
Stage 3 also brought a challenge for TGR’s young gun, Saood Variawa, and his French co-driver, Francois Cazalet. With that said, the pair started the day as the 40th car on the road but fought their way through the dust of slower cars and into 21st place on the stage. They also struggled with navigation in two places, having to double-back to find certain waypoints. But despite this, they relinquished only 23min 37sec to the stage winners, and are in 18th place in the overall standings.
TGR’s final crew, Guy Botterill and co-driver, Brett Cummings, had a great start to Dakar 2024, but Stage 3 bit hard. The pair had their first puncture barely 50km into the special stage; and a second 100km further on. This forced them into survival mode, as they were out of spares, only to suffer a third puncture 150km from the finish. Luckily this one didn’t fully deflate the tyre, and the crew were able to nurse their GR Hilux EVO home by stopping to top up the tyre repeatedly. They lost 31min 53sec in the process but are still in 17th place overall.
Stage 3 was also the start of a ‘mini-Marathon’ stage for the race, as the technical crews were given only two hours to repair and prepare the cars for Stage 4. To compound the challenge, the race crews camped at a remote bivouac without the support of their teams after Stage 3, before taking on the next stage. This will consist of a liaison of 198km, joining the remote bivouac at Al Salamiya with the start of the route. Next up will be a timed section of 299km, run mainly on dirt tracks, with a small dune section in the mix. Finally, the crews will cover a second liaison of 201km to reach the bivouac at Al-Hofuf.