Last year’s second-placed driver, Giniel de Villiers (#301) of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa, was more focused on avoiding risks, but Bernhard ten Brinke (#311 OVERDRIVE TOYOTA), who finished overall 7th last year, was pleasantly surprised to come in first and lead out the rally proper – a 404km liaison section from Rosario to Villa Carlos Paz and a 258km high-speed, rollercoaster-like SS (Special Section) on dangerously undulating mountain paths.
Competitors from the Moto category left the bivouac – where rally participants camp – for the Special Stage at 04:00, with the Auto category departing at 07:13. Disappointingly, for revved-up drivers and co-drivers alike, thunderous clouds were spotted at the liaison – the section between the bivouac and the Special Stage – instantly transforming the farms each side of the road into soaking paddy fields. The organiser therefore decided to cancel the Special Stage in the interests of safety.
More misty rain the next morning meant Stage 2 was also shortened slightly from 461km to 386 km, but all the drivers did commence without any setbacks. Time-sapping bogs were the main obstacle of the day, but Toyota Hilux succeeded in securing half of the top 10 places, once again demonstrating its rough road drivability. Up next: the 663km Stage 3 that would present more of the same – lots of narrow, winding paths where it’s difficult to overtake – with dust affecting visibility and rain affecting grip.