Mishaps are part and parcel of the Dakar Rally, but what goes through the mind when you know you have zero assistance trucks available and 175km left to drive?
Ask Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Henk Lategan, because he had to do exactly that on stage 12 of the event, having rolled early on.
Significant damage was done to the Hilux T1+, which had been as high as second overall after the rest day before slipping off the podium after suffering a broken damper on stage nine.
When that happened, Lategan and navigator Brett Cummings were bailed out by Hilux stablemate Yazeed Al Rajhi in an incredible act of sportsmanship given Al Rajhi isn’t an official Toyota driver.
On stage 12, however, there was nobody to help and no team truck either.
This was where the marathon stage lived up to its gruelling description.
“It happened really early on in the stage, we were about 15km in I think,” Lategan told DirtFish.
“We came onto one of the flats and we were a little bit too far to the right. I was looking a little for the track to the left and there was a small dunette in the road and I just saw that it was too sharp, and we were sideways.
“It launched the car in the other direction we landed sideways. And then we rolled, I’m not sure how many times we rolled but it rolled a few times.
“Obviously, we had quite a bit of damage to repair but we managed to fix the car and limp it to the end.”
It’s one thing having an accident like this on a stage where the crews alone need to effect the necessary repairs, but quite another when you are in a handy fourth place overall on just your third Dakar.
Lategan has had something of a love-hate relationship with the Dakar since making his debut in 2021. That first year he showed strong pace but an accident on stage five broke his collarbone.
A year later, he won two stages, while the 2023 edition has produced his best form to date.
Therefore, getting the car to the sanctity of his TGR team in Sheybah was absolutely essential.
“At that stage, we were on our side, so the first thing was to get out of the car and then the next thing was to figure out how to get it back on its wheels and repaired to carry on going,” Lategan explained.
If you had to roll any other car, there’s no way you’d be able to get it going againHenk Lategan
“There was a bit of damage: we broke the rear disc, we broke a ball joint, the tires came off and there are a few other things that are a bit bent.
“We had to take out a bit of bodywork panels too; some fans and things were damaged, so we had to fix those, and also some electric damage too. So, a lot of work.”
In the World Rally Championship, it’s common for either the driver or co-driver to take on the lion’s share of mechanical maintenance. But in cross-country, a job shared is a job halved.
“We’re a good team and, funnily enough, we didn’t work on the same things at the same time, we both went to different parts of the car, and we started working on those issues,” said Lategan.
“Which helps a lot because you’re not just focusing on one issue at a time, you can do two of them. So, we both jumped in and looked for problems and started fixing them.
“[Driving the last 175km] wasn’t nice, we had to drive the rest of the stage with no rear brakes and the engine was not feeling 100%, I’m not sure what was going on there.
“But then, we knew we had to just get it through because that was a bit of a big one.”
There have been plenty of incidents and accidents on this year’s Dakar, with some vehicles coming off particularly worse for wear.
Carlos Sainz was forced out of the event after his Audi RS Q e-tron was too badly damaged to continue following his stage nine crash, while Astara’s Laia Sanz suffered heavy damage to her car which necessitated repairs well into the night during the opening week.
Lategan is thankful that his GR Hilux DKR T1+ is sturdy enough to have withstood his stage 12 roll and come out the other side reasonably well off.
“We carry a lot of spares and especially with it being the marathon stage, we have a few extra spares in the car, but it’s unbelievably strong,” Lategan added.
“If you had to roll any other car, there’s no way you’d be able to get it going again, but this thing is seriously tough. We’re just happy to get through the stage.”
Miraculously, despite the roll and substantial time loss of 48m35s to stage winner Sébastien Loeb, Lategan only lost one position in the overall classification.
He and Cummings lie fifth, one place behind the other TGR Hilux of Giniel de Villiers with just two stages remaining. Team-mate Nasser Al-Attiyah leads comfortably.
Arguably, the biggest challenge has been surpassed, but Saturday’s penultimate stage is perhaps the final major test for this relative Dakar newbie.