The indomitable Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) factory team must lose this year’s 1000km Desert Race. Toyota’s unlikely loss this weekend is necessary in order to save the appeal, credibility and mystique of the racing circus that pulls crowds of up to 200 000 spectators to Jwaneng mining town and surrounding areas.
The TGR has not lost a race since 2011. Their last recorded loss was at the hands of the Ford Ranger racing team. However, since then TGR has had a strangle hold in the popular marathon race, which is among the longest and most gruelling in the African continent. Boasting one of the most advanced racing programmes in the world and some of the best rally driver Toyota will be hard to beat on paper. Another advantage the TGR has in the TDR is lack of worthy rivals.
Ford does not provide any real threat to TGR, however new entrants the Nissan Red-Lined Nissan team will add a much-needed dimension to the two-day event. The Red-Lined Nissan team specialises in races like the TDR and they are well funded and resourced enough to give the TGR a run for their money. However, Botswana is Toyota country and they boast a lot of experience in the TDR that has sponsored the event for many years. The men behind the steering wheel also matters in a tricky off-road event like TDR. Multiple TDR winner Leeroy Poulter and former Dakar Rally winner Geniel De Villiers are some of the best rally drivers in the world.
Their combination with the robust TGR racing programme makes the team virtually unbeatable. The Elf Renault team provides the TGR with a rather mild threat, as they hardly have the resources nor drivers that are capable of beating the reigning TDR champions. The privateer entry 4X4 Mega World FIA spec Hilux will be posing another threat to the TGR crew.
Given the speed, skill and sheer luck the TGR team enjoys, it will be farfetched to bet on any of their rivals causing an upset. However, an upset is what is necessary at this year’s event. If TGR wins it will be just another repeat of last year’s race where De Villiers won by a country mile with his teammate Poulter coming in second position. Nevertheless, more than half of the 200 000 spectators of the TDR couldn’t care less about who wins the TDR, they are there to see racing car flying past at dizzying speeds. For those who care about the results and classification, there is need for change of guard at the top end of the competition.
Another win by TGR will be mundane and sooner or later it might take its toll on the appeal of the race. As things stand TGR has bigger fish to fry and that is the South African Cross-Country Series and the Dakar Rally, which is the ultimate prize. For TGR the TDR is just practice for the 2019 Dakar Rally in Peru. The celebratory champagne in the podium has long lost its sweetness.