Despite a string of podiums the SA-built Toyota Hilux has yet to win the Dakar Rally. Could 2019 be its year? Picture: SUPPLIED
Despite a string of podiums the SA-built Toyota Hilux has yet to win the Dakar Rally. Could 2019 be its year? Picture: SUPPLIED

Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s team for January’s 2019 Dakar Rally has been announced, and a three-car team will take the latest evolution of the Toyota Hilux to South America.

Veteran race driver Giniel de Villiers will once more attempt to win the race at the wheel of a Toyota while long-time navigator, German Dirk von Zitzewitz, will again pace the South African to mount a winning challenge against 2018 winners Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz.

Sainz, who won the Dakar with Peugeot in 2107, arrives at the start in Lima, Peru, at the wheel of the X-Raid Mini JCW team.

The other two SA-built Hiluxes will be crewed by Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah with French co-driver Mathieu Baumel, and Dutchman Bernhard ten Brinke with French navigator Xavier Panseri, the latter moving to Toyota after Peugeot’s exit from the Dakar.

The stiffest competition to the trio of Toyota Hilux is the Mini offensive, which brings five cars with some serious wheelsmen at their helms. Apart from Sainz, there is also legendary Stephane Peterhansel, who finished fourth overall behind De Villiers last year, and the wily Nani Roma to contend with. 

The Hilux has achieved a number of podium positions since its Dakar debut in 2012 but has yet to win the world’s toughest off-road race.

The latest evolution of the Toyota Hilux saw a major revamp in 2018 when it was updated with a mid-engine layout and new suspension geometry. Further refinements to the engine, suspension and overall weight of the car were performed during 2018 but the 37mm air intake restrictor rule amendments will be a key factor in Dakar 2019.

“The FIA has been working hard to try and balance the performance of the turbodiesel-powered cars [including the Minis] and the naturally aspirated V8s, such as ours,” explains Glyn Hall, Toyota Gazoo Racing team manager.

“This is an ongoing process, and while neither camp will probably ever be entirely happy with the rules, we have no choice but to abide by their rules. The smaller restrictor is sure to count against us somewhat this year, but with the lower altitudes of Peru, we may just have enough grunt to make it work regardless,” he adds.

Other competitors who will fly the SA flag in the 2019 Dakar rally include Jozi-born and Dubai resident Shameer Variawa with co-pilot Zaheer Bodhanya driving a Nissan Navara in the car class; and Stuart Gregory (KTM 450 EXC) and Kenneth Gilbert (Husqvarna FR 450) in the motorcycle class. 

The 2019 Dakar Rally, which runs from January 6-17, will take place in only one country for the first time in its history, with Peru the sole host nation for the 2019 event.

Global racing series for women

More than 100 applicants from around the world have sought to join a new all-female motor racing series aimed at getting them into Formula One (F1), where no woman has competed since 1976.

Organisers have issued a list of 55 entrants that will be whittled down to 18 drivers for the W Series, which is set to launch in May 2018. The drivers will be racing 1.8l Formula Three cars for a $1.5m prize fund.

The drivers, whose ages range from 17 to 33 and include some familiar names to fans who follow the various junior series, now face on- and off-track tests, with former grand prix racers David Coulthard and Alex Wurz among the judges.

Spain’s ex-Lotus and Renault F1 development driver Carmen Jorda, a 30-year-old who also sits on the governing FIA women’s commission, was one of those to go on to the next phase.

Amna Al Qubaisi, 18, the first female racing driver from the UAE who has competed in Italian Formula Four and will test a Formula E car in Saudi Arabia in January, was another.

So too was Britain’s Jamie Chadwick, 20, who in 2015 became the first female driver to win a British GT championship and in 2018 became the first woman to win a round of the British Formula Three series, finishing eighth overall.

Indian racers Mira Erda, 18, and Sneha Sharma, 28, also made the initial list.

The W Series organisers say they hope to provide a platform for women to develop their skills before taking on male drivers further up the motorsport ladder.

The first race is scheduled for Hockenheim, Germany, on May 3 and the overall series winner will collect $500,000, with prize money down to 18th place.

MotoGP changes rule for fallen riders

MotoGP riders can be classified as race finishers in future even if they and their motorcycles cross the line separately, the sport’s governing body (FIM) has declared.

Under previous rules, riders had to be still on their machines at the chequered flag to finish and score points but the FIM’s Grand Prix Commission decided a change was needed.

“There have been situations when, due to a crash, the rider and machine have crossed the line separately,” the International Motorcycling Federation said in a statement.

“In future, the finish time will be determined by the first part of the rider or his motorcycle, whichever crosses the finish line last.”

Dutch Moto3 entrant Bo Bendsneyder fell metres from the finish at his home grand prix at Assen in 2017 and was disqualified from 10th place because his riderless KTM had skidded across the line ahead of him.