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Headed for Saudi Arabia: New Dakar venue a big win for team Hilux?

2019-04-17 05:15

Lance Branquinho

Fernando Alonso Toyota Dakar HIlux

Image: Motorpress

Temperatures will be brutal but Saudi Arabia will be a better Dakar racing location for the South African built Hilux bakkie. 

It’s the world’s most famous and gruelling off-road race and now the Dakar is heading for its third host geography. Born in Africa, the Dakar has become synonymous with high-speed off-road driving and human drama as competitors are humbled by towering dunes and Tolkienesque ravines year after year, in a fantastic diversity of racing machines. 

Although the Dakar started in Africa during the summer of 1977, and retains a unique identity associated with the continent through its iconic Touareg logo, it has been hosted in South America for the last eleven years. 

Fernando Alonso Toyota Dakar HIlux

                                                                               Image: Toyota

The departure from Africa was inevitable as the Dakar raced through some of the most isolated communities on earth in the Sahara.

An eventual clash between dessert nomads and a huge procession of racing cars, trucks and motorcycles finally happened in 2008 when Mauritanian extremists threatened violence upon the event and executed a French family to prove their intentions. 

Many doubted that moving the Dakar from its spiritual African home would work but South America, with its energetic crowds and spectacular terrain, proved that the Dakar was a motorsport event with enviable fluidity. 

Economic conditions in Argentina and Brazil have unfortunately worsened over the last few years, adding pressure to regional politics, which eventually threatened the Dakar’s Latin American future.

This year’s event looped around only one country – Peru – and organisers were pressured to move the Dakar – again. 

It now enters its third continent and new home in the Middle-East.

Dakar 2019 Peru

                                                                                  Image: Toyota

The Arabian dessert will provide all the sand driving anxiety that Dakar events have always been renowned for, testing competitors with extreme temperatures. 

The Arabian dessert temperatures during January, when the Dakar is run each year, average 45-degrees Celsius and routinely peak beyond 50-degrees. 

The Arabian dessert is also the world’s largest pure sea of sand and its Empty Quarter (Rub' Al-Khali) is the largest contiguous expanse of sand anywhere on the planet, measuring 1000km by 500km. Getting stuck or lost there is almost certain.

South Africa has a special interest in the Dakar rally, as we have won both the driver’s title (Giniel de Villiers, 2009) and vehicle trophy (Toyota’s Hilux, at this year’s Dakar).

What will the move to Saudi Arabia mean for the locally built Hilux V8 racing bakkies, which have performed so credible at the Dakar, since their introduction in 2012? The biggest disadvantage the South American Dakar had for the Hilux V8 racing bakkie, was its extreme altitude on route, provided by the Andes mountains, with its dizzying elevations.

For a few days each year, in South America, the Dakar would range so high that the naturally-aspirated 5-litre V8 Hilux bakkies would lose nearly a quarter of their engine power – or in some cases, even more.

European turbodiesel racing car rivals would suffer much less high-altitude engine output degradation, ceding them a handsome advantage in overall speed. In the Saudi Arabian dessert, where the peak altitude on route should never exceed 800m, the Hilux won’t suffer nearly as much rare atmosphere engine power loss as it did in South America, where the highest point above sea level reached 4600m. 

Turbocharged racing vehicles are also susceptible in extreme dessert heat, and if temperatures continuously surge beyond 50-degrees during a Saudi Dakar, the risk of turbocharger failure or fire will increase. By contrast, the Hilux’s unboosted V8 has proven hugely reliable and should run untroubled in the extreme Saudi conditions, as it has been tested and developed in similar conditions, found in South Africa’s Kalahari dessert. 

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Read more on:    saudi arabia  |  toyota  |  dakar rally

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