Al-Attiyah claimed a comfortable win – Toyota’s first – in last year’s edition, and the Hilux looked to have retained its edge over the Mini buggy in the lead-up to the 2020 race as it won Rally Morocco and two other Dakar rehearsal events in Saudi Arabia.
Yet though Al-Attiyah enters the 10th stage just 24 seconds behind the Dakar-leading buggy of Carlos Sainz, he is yet to claim a stage win, even though he maintains he’s no longer holding any pace back.
“Our job is to make sure his car is 100 percent tonight and let him go out and push,” Hall said of Al-Attiyah ahead of Wednesday’s marathon stage.
“It's been a big fight. Much bigger than I thought it was going to be, and him. We thought we had something in hand, but we certainly don't. Not on this race. Something's changed since Morocco.”
Hall and Al-Attiyah have both previously pointed to the air restrictor rules – mandating a 37mm restrictor for the Hilux and a 39mm for the Mini buggy – as being unbalanced in X-raid favour, although this was virulently dismissed by the German outfit’s team boss Sven Quandt.
“If you see the 4x4, it’s too far [behind], I’m the only one able to keep pushing with the buggy,” Al-Attiyah said.
“For here, for Saudi Arabia Dakar, it’s really fit for the buggy. There’s no question.
“[I’m pushing] more than 100 percent, you know? It’s crazy.”
A number of competitors have described the 2020 route so far as being relatively high-speed, with car class leader Sainz commenting after Tuesday’s run that “it is going more at the pace of a rally than a raid, that’s for sure”.
Wednesday’s 534km Haradh – Shubaytah test is expected to provide a more technical challenge however, with Hall pointing out that the predicted average speed for the frontrunners is down to 70-72km/h from 85km/h the day before.
“It's closed roadbook, we don't know what's coming, it's going to be a real Dakar surprise tomorrow,” Hall said.
“Stephane [Peterhansel, Dakar’s most successful competitor ever] will be drooling at the seven hours in the seat tomorrow, because it's a hell of a long stage. The average speed is 10ks an hour slower than today. We can only expect more difficult and tricky terrain, that's all we know really.”
Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah will be the first two cars on the road on Wednesday, whereas Sainz will line up further back after getting slowed by a tyre delamination the day prior.
“Nasser's task is simply, ‘get to Stephane and stay with him’. Carlos we'll worry about the next day. That's all we can do, that'll be Nasser's task tomorrow - follow Stephane like glue. That'll be the plan,” Hall said.