VETERAN DAKAR COMPETITORS: SA's Giniel de Villiers and his long-time navigator, Dirk von Zitzewitz, will take on the 2016 Dakar Rally behind the wheel of a new SA-built Toyota Hilux. Image: Toyota SA
Chile - The 2016 Dakar Rally sees the introduction of a third factory entry for the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team, in the form of Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and German navigator Timo Gottschalk.
The pair will be lining up alongside SA veteran and former winner Giniel de Villiers and his long-serving German navigator, Dirk von Zitzewitz. Newly crowned South African Cross-Country champions, Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie, will also be returning for their third consecutive Dakar together.
World's toughest race: Meet SA's Dakar Rally competitors
The Dakar-specification Toyota Hilux has seen significant development over the last five years. The first version was essentially an evolution of the cross-country race bakkie, but since then it has seen constant evolution thanks to an extended testing programme and technological advances.
New Toyota Dakar competitor
Visually it has seen the biggest change in its five-year history. The new body shell is designed to reflect the next-generation Hilux, but the panels are rendered in ultra-lightweight composites, keeping the overall weight down.
The biggest change lies under the bonnet where an all-new Lexus RC-F V8 engine – the most powerful 2UR-series engine ever built – nestles.
Toyota Racing SA team principal, Glyn Hall, said: "By working with the exhaust system, inlet manifold and engine mapping system, we managed to coax the most out of the engine without compromising its reliability."
285kW/600Nm off-road beast
The result is a highly flexible, reliable V8 motor with around 285kW of power and over 600Nm of torque. A new transmission system is also in place, utilising a new gearbox that has seen significant testing during the 2015 cross-country season.
For 2016 the Hilux also features a new Controller Area Network (CAN) electronic power distribution system, which is significantly lighter and more flexible than the traditional wiring harnesses used in the past.
Besides the three Toyota Racing SA vehicles the Overdrive Racing team, an independent operator from Belgium, will enter five Toyota Hilux vehicles, one of which is supported by Toyota France.
Overdrive also has a strong driver line-up, with Czech WRC rally driver Martin Prokop and his rally navigator Jan Tomanek joining the team (following fellow-rallyists Seb Loeb, Hirvonen, Sainz and Xavier Pons to Dakar) and Dutch off-road stalwart Bernard ten Brinke and Tom Colsoul (Belgium).
Another crew to watch is the Russian team of Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov who after winning the FIA rally-raid World Cup round in Abu Dhabi and finishing second in Qatar and Egypt moved from the X-Raid Mini team to a Hallspeed built Toyota Hilux.