Giniel de Villiers from the Toyota Gazoo Racing team, spoke to about his preparation for the upcoming 2021 Dakar Rally, which starts on January 2.

Q: Considering that South Africa has been under lockdown for most of 2020, how have you been preparing physically and mentally for the upcoming Dakar Rally? And how has the prep for this Rally changed compared to previous years?

De Villiers: Yes, it’s been a difficult year for us. Obviously, we couldn’t prepare as we would have liked to, especially in the first half of the year. But in the second part of the year we actually managed to do quite a lot. We were able to do a lot of testing in the Kalahari Desert, as well as in Namibia. So all in all, we were able to do quite a bit more than we thought we would have been able to do. We were also able to improve the car a little bit on various things, a little bit everywhere, which always helps.

I’m very confident for the upcoming Dakar Rally, I think we’ve got a very good car this year. The team is ready, we are ready. Physically we have just been trying to train as hard as we can, and we’re still training now right up to the Dakar Rally.

It is certainly going to be a different race, and a different rally with the feel with no spectators allowed into the bivouac, so only competitors and team personnel allowed there, so that is going to be a little bit different. From inside the bivouac it is going to be quite a bit more quiet, but it is what it is and we will be able to do the race. The race is going to be just as hard as it is always and we’re looking forward to the start on the 2nd of January.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at the upcoming Dakar Rally?

De Villiers: There is not a single thing that I am looking forward to, I’m looking forward to the race as a whole. It’s such a challenging adventure, the Dakar Rally, over such a long period of time that makes the whole event a massive challenge. But I’m looking forward to race again, all the other competitors. I think it’s going to be tough like usual. All the usual suspects are there, Carlos Sainz, Stephane Peterhansel, Sébastien Loeb, Nasser Al-Attiyah – my team mate. Yazeed Al Rajhi and I’m looking forward to race against them again, and to explore some more of the Saudi desert.

The race last year was very good and we enjoyed racing there and seeing the incredible Saudi landscape, so very excited to see a bit more of that.

Q: There are a few rookies in the team this year, what would you say is one of the most important tips/insights to share with those facing the Dakar Rally for the first time?

We have one rookie in our team, Henk Lategan, and then Shameer Variwa has done the race before, but it’s also quite new to him. He hasn’t finished it before. These are guys that can drive a race car, so I’ve just been trying to give them some pointers, especially in the dunes, because they haven’t been exposed to the dunes quite a lot. We spent some time in Namibia, giving them some pointers and tips on how to drive in the dunes. I think we had a good test with the two guys. It’s definitely going to be very exciting for them.

De Villiers: To line up in the Dakar, Henk is a youngster, 25 years old and he has been really fast here in the South African Championship and it will be interesting to see how he goes on the Dakar Rally as he does not have any experience there, so he is going to learn, but he is a guy that learns quickly. I’m looking forward to see how they go, and the same with Shameer. They’re in for a big challenge, a big adventure and hopefully the pointers I have given them will help them during the Rally.

Q: What are your personal lessons from the 2020 Dakar Rally, that you’ll be taking into 2021?

De Villiers: The biggest thing we learned from the 2020 Dakar Rally is that the terrain is quite hard on the tyres. Last year we had so many punctures. So this year we worked very hard to try improve that. We also tried to improve the suspension and we worked together with BF Goodrich to try improve the tyre, so we learnt a lot of lessons there.

We also learned how the racing is in Saudi Arabi, and the terrain because it is different in every country, so we would probably be a little bit better prepared, know a bit more of what to expect and that always makes it easier if you go back a second time.

From that point of view we have tried to use as much of our knowledge as possible, that we gained last year doing the race to prepare even better for this next race. – © Red Bull Content Pool