|Oilibya du Maroc: Van Merksteijn, Ogorodnikov, Olholm, Ruta with Overdrive.|
Overdrive Racing is preparing for a hectic "OiLibya Rally of Morocco" where it will field no less than four Toyota Hiluxes for drivers from the Netherlands, Russia, Australia and Poland.
The Moroccan event is one of the most popular long distance cross-country rallies in the international calendar and is organised by the Neveu Pelletier Organisation (NPO). It starts in Erfoud on Monday, October 15th and finishes in Zagora on Saturday, October 20th.
Dutchman Peter van Merksteijn, Russian Leonid Ogorodnikov, Australian Geoff Olholm and Poland’s Szymon Ruta will drive the four Belgian-run cars, with Belgian Eddy Chevallier, Russian Anton Nikolaev, Aussie Jon Aston and Frenchman Laurent Lichtleuchter set for their respective co-driving duties.
Olholm and Van Merksteijn will drive two Toyotas that have been built at Overdrive’s workshops at Villers-le-Bouillet, near Huy, in Belgium under licence from Toyota Motorsport South Africa.
The Ogorodnikov and Ruta cars were built by Toyota Motorsport in association with Hallspeed in South Africa and are being run on the Moroccan event by Overdrive Racing, which has received additional support from new sponsors Mistral, Donaldson Filtration, Essers Transport and Toyota Belgium. Ruta’s car also carries support from Orlen, the Polish oil company.
"It has been a busy few weeks preparing for the race and I am really proud to debut the two new cars," said Overdrive team principal Jean-Marc Fortin. "The team has really put in a lot of effort to get things ready and we have had a lot of support from Toyota Motorsport South Africa with the new project.
"For the race, I think it will be interesting to see how the performance of the Hilux compares to our competitors and it will give the entire team one last chance before the Dakar for a thorough test session."
Van Merksteijn and Chevallier made an impressive first appearance for the Overdrive Racing team at the Italian Baja in March and the Moroccan event forms the second part of their preparations for the Dakar, where the emphasis will be placed on gaining as much experience as possible of sand dunes and softer terrain.
Morocco will mark the first event of the season for Ogorodnikov and his new co-driver and a Toyota Hilux debut for Olholm. The Australian was leading the recent Australian Safari Rally and won most of the special stages before damaging his rear suspension. He is planning an outing on the Dakar 2013 and will use the event as a vital test session.
Ruta, meanwhile, continues with his development and preparations for the Dakar with his Orlen-backed Hilux and his new French co-driver. The Pole’s most recent outing ended with a fine fourth position in Baja Poland.
The Overdrive Racing Toyotas face a stiff challenge from one of the largest fields of drivers assembled outside the Dakar Rally for a non-FIA World Cup round. Overdrive management will be keeping a close eye on the Mini All4 Racings, driven by Russian Leonid Novitskiy and Poland’s Krzysztof Holowczyc, and the Mitsubishi of Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke.
Competitors in the motorcycle, car and truck categories will tackle six days of action through some of the most demanding desert terrain in southern Morocco. Action gets underway with a 271km special around Erfoud on Monday, October 15th and the traditional desert outpost will also host the event for a second 315km stage through the Erg Chebbi on Tuesday.
The route heads from Erfoud to Zagora via a 291km special stage on Wednesday and the remainder of the event is centred around Zagora. A 250km stage through the Chegaga is on the agenda for Thursday, October 18th, while the penultimate special on Friday, October 19th runs from Oued Draa to the Iriki Lake and offers 246 competitive kilometres.
A 171km stage across the Jebel Rhart brings the competition to a conclusion before the ceremonial finish in Zagora on Saturday, October 20th. In a compact total route of 2,074km, the NPO has paid on a potential 1,544 competitive kilometres.
2012/10/11 | 16:34 CET | ARTICLE: MR/HS/PERKINS