LET'S DAKAR! Toyota South Africa's Dakar team is ready to take on the planet's most gruelling 4x4 race in January 2015. Image: Toyota SA
Every January is synonymous with only one thing as far as motorsport fans are concerned: the Dakar Rally, and the 2015 race is promising to live up to the legend created by the 35 previous editions of the planet's most iconic motorsport event.
As in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Imperial Toyota SA Dakar team will be there for the start and come January 2015 will field the best racing Toyota Hilux yet.
SA TEAM ATTACK
Team principal Glyn Hall told Wheels24: "We're very pleased with the latest evolution of our proven Hilux Dakar bakkie. This is the third generation of the vehicle which came third in its first year on the Dakar and, most importantly, the drivers are just as happy with it as I am."
The drivers for 2015 will be the same as those who raced in 2014: Giniel de Villiers, who won the event in 2009, will again lead the team. It will be be De Villiers' 12th Dakar and alongside him again in will be long-time navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz, a veteran of 14 Dakars through North Africa and, more recently, South America.
Leeroy Poulter and navigator Rob Howie will again be in the second Hilux. The made their mark early in the 2014 race when they set the third-fastest time on Stage 3, finishing 33rd overall after the 13 stages..
The new Hilux is essentially an evolution rather than a complete redesign, says Toyota. As such it has built on the strengths of the preceeding versions, though visually the 2015 vehicle may represent the biggest change yet.
Immediately evident is that the spare wheels have been relocated from the back of the car. One wheel now fits under the cockpit, two more are on the sides behind the doors. This has shifted the significant mass (120kg) of the wheels to an area within the axles and also lowered the bakkies' centre of gravityIn addition to the weight-saving, the regulations now also allow for a slightly larger turbo air restrictor. This was done in an effort to level the playing field for the various engine types that essentially compete in the same class - notably the turbodiesels that suffer less at high altitude and in thick sand than the simply fuel-injected petrol engines, such as those used in the Hiluxes.
De Villiers said of the new layout: "You can really feel a huge difference. The new bakkie is much faster through twisty sections and we've worked a lot on the suspension to make it land better after jumps."
The change in layout came largely thanks to new regulations, which allow the Hilux to be 60kg lighter than before. To fully capitalise on this reduction in weight the team decided to maximise its distribution for better handling and balance.
At the same time, the new Hilux has a fully South African-developed suspension, a new aircon andother refinements - all of which will be tested when Dakar 2015 gets under way in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 4, 2015. The route will be a trans-continental loop from Argengina, through Chile and Bolivia, and back to Argentina for the finish in Buenos Aires on January 17.
Team Overdrive also supports a number of other Hilux competitors, including accomplished drivers such as Lucio Alvarez (Argentina), Bernhard ten Brinke (Netherlands) and Yazeed Alrajhi (Saudi Arabia).
The SA Dakar team will not be the only one fielding South African-developed Hiluxes. As in the past, the South African team will receive logistical and infrastructure support from Belgian outfit Team Overdrive on the event.
Stay with Wheels24 for full coverage of the entire 2015 Dakar Rally.
The two South African Hilux trucks will depart by air for Argentina on December 15, courtesy of SAA Cargo.