The 2024 edition of the Dakar Rally brought mixed results for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, but while some of the team’s big names found the going particularly tough, it was the two rookie drivers who made their presence count. This underscores TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa (TGRSA)’s commitment to the development of motorsport in South Africa and proves that emerging talents have a clear path from the Junior Academy, through to SupaCup and GTC, and on to rally-raid racing, with the Dakar Rally as the ultimate goal.

This year, the TGR team fielded two rookies, in the form of Guy Botterill and Saood Variawa. Botterill, who competed in the SA National Rally Championship (NRC) for many years, winning multiple championships, was the top-performing rookie at this year’s Dakar, despite limited experience in big dunes. Together with co-driver Brett Cummings, who normally navigates for Henk Lategan, Botterill recorded consistent stage results throughout the event, eventually finishing in 6th place in the overall standings after 12 tough stages of racing in Saudi Arabia.

At the same time, young Saood Variawa became one of the youngest works drivers in the history of the sport, bringing his GR DKR Hilux EVO T1U home in 16th place overall, with Frenchman Francois Cazalet beside him in the car. The pair took a few stages to find their feet on the biggest automotive race on the planet, but once they settled into a rhythm, their pace was undeniable.

Variawa’s background is in track racing, where he has raced a wide variety of formulas despite his young age, most recently vying for the Global Touring Cars (GTC) title in South Africa.

The two rookies were supported by veteran Dakar racer Giniel de Villiers and his co-driver, Dennis Murphy. De Villiers, who has an enviable record in the Dakar Rally, was hampered by navigational issues during the 2024 event, which cost him significant time early in the race. He also struggled with punctures in the rocky stages and ended in 7th place overall. De Villiers was also instrumental in the development and testing of the latest version of the GR DKR Hilux EVO T1U, effectively sharing his experience with the entire team.

In addition to the three South African drivers, TGR also included two international crews for Dakar 2024. While youngster Seth Quintero, from the USA, has a fair amount of Dakar experience, the other new signing, Lucas Moraes, was himself a rookie at Dakar one year ago. His performance in 2023 identified him as an emerging talent in the world of rally-raid racing, and he was an ideal addition to the works team for 2024.

Moraes, from Brazil, was partnered with Spanish co-driver Armand Monleon for Dakar 2024. The pair showed exceptional pace and maturity throughout the event, winning Stage 3 and moving into second place on the penultimate stage before disaster struck. A series of setbacks cost them significant time, dropping them down to 9th place overall.

Finally, Seth Quintero and co-driver Dennis Zenz (Germany) started Dakar 2024 in fine form, showing that the reputation they earned in the T3 category was not in error. But then, they had a hard impact with a rock that damaged the twin-turbo V6 engine in their Toyota Hilux. The team was forced to fit a new engine, which incurred a massive penalty, and dropped the pair out of contention. They continued to compete for good stage results, supporting their teammates with spare parts where needed. In the end, the best they could muster was 42nd overall – a result that belies their pace and potential.

By the time the dust settled over the last of Dakar 2024’s 12 stages, TGR had achieved 6th, 7th and 9th places in the Top 10; while three other Toyota Hilux crews also attained positions in the Top 10.

This brought the Toyota Hilux representation in the Top 10 to 60%, clearly underlining the quality, durability and reliability of the GR DKR Hilux EVO T1U.

Next up for TGRSA will be Round 1 of the SARRC, which is set to take place during April, in the Mpumalanga town of Malalane.

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