Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa has entered three crews for the Rally of Morocco, the penultimate round of the 2018 World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
The gruelling five-day event will serve not only as an opportunity for the team to test the latest version of its race-proven Toyota Hilux in preparation for the 2019 Dakar Rally, but will also give the two new co-drivers in the team a chance to gel with their drivers.
While Nasser Al Attiyah from Qatar will remain with his long-standing co-driver Mathieu Baumel from France, both Giniel de Villiers from South Africa and Bernhard Ten Brinke of the Netherlands will have new co-drivers beside them – both in Morocco, and next year’s Dakar Rally.
De Villiers will be paired with French co-driver Alex Winocq for Morocco; while Ten Brinke will also have a Frenchman doing navigating duty, in the person of Xavier Panseri.
Both co-drivers have competed in several Dakar Rallies in the past and bring a wealth of experience to the team.
Morocco will also serve as a backdrop for the team’s final preparations for Dakar 2019, with a comprehensive test session in the desert near Erfoud.
While the latest iteration of the Toyota Hilux has already clocked up significant test mileage during this year’s South African Cross-Country Series in the hands of Giniel de Villiers and Henk Lategan, the Moroccan test offered the first opportunity for Al Attiyah and Ten Brinke to sample the car.
“Our goal with the test in Morocco was to run some final tests on a number of components; test suspension setups for the Dakar Rally, and lock in the final details for each individual crew,” explained Toyota Gazoo SA Team principal Glyn Hall from the start location of the Rally of Morocco, the town of Fes.
“The terrain here in Morocco is very similar to what we expect in Peru early next year, so testing here is invaluable to our Dakar campaign.”
With that said, the team is not only in Morocco for testing purposes.
There is also the issue of a gruelling race to compete in, and this year’s Rally of Morocco is a completely new animal.
The rally has a proud history, dating back to 1982 when the first Paris-Agadir event took place.
In 1983 the race took on the name of Atlas Rally and attracted some of the biggest names in the sport of cross-country racing for more than a decade, before petering out at the end of the ’90s.
Then came the rebirth of the event in 2000, sporting a new name as the Rally of Morocco.
The elite of the rally-raid world returned to northern Africa. In 2017 the event changed hands to a new company known as ODC, which is headed up by rally-raid legend David Castera.
While the race still takes place in Morocco, Castera and his team have ushered in a new era with world-class organisation and many innovations in the route and layout of the race.
“One of the most exciting innovations is that the various categories run different routes each day, or the same route at vastly different times of the day,” said Hall.
“This means that cars don’t have to overtake bikes in dusty conditions or get stuck behind big trucks – both scenarios that sometimes make cross-country racing very tricky.”
The 2018 race will get underway with a ceremonial start on Thursday, October 4 in the central Moroccan town of Fes, where the event also finishes on October 9.
In between lies 689km of liaisons and 1 362km of special stage racing, bringing the total mileage of the Rally of Morocco to 2 051km.
All three crews will drive near-identical versions of the Class FIA Toyota Hilux, as campaigned by De Villiers and Lategan in the South African Cross-Country Series, where most of the testing and development also takes place.
“The Rally of Morocco will be a stern test for us, but it will also allow us to measure our performance against the latest evolution of the MINI Buggies, which will be in the hands of Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres this week,” concludes Hall.