For motorsport enthusiasts the month of January is synonymous with only one thing: The Dakar Rally. The 2015 race promises to live up to the legend created by the 35 previous editions of what has become one of our planet’s most iconic motorsport events. As in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Imperial Toyota South Africa Dakar Team will be there for the start, fielding the best race Toyota Hilux yet.
“We are very pleased with the latest evolution of our proven Toyota 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,” says Team Principal Glyn Hall. The driver line-up for 2015 is unchanged from the last Dakar: Giniel De Villiers, who won the event in 2009, will again spearhead Toyota Imperial South Africa Dakar Team’s attack. This will be De Villiers’ 12th year of participation in the rally.
Beside him in the car is long-time navigator Dirk Von Zitzewitz (Germany), who is himself a veteran of 14 Dakar Rallies. Leeroy Poulter and navigator Rob Howie will again be in action in the second Toyota Imperial Hilux. The pair made their mark early in the 2014 race when they set the third-fastest time on Stage 3, finishing in 33rd position overall after the 13 stages that made up the race.
The new Toyota Imperial Hilux is issentially an evolution rather than a complete redesign. 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, with one each mounted on the sides behind the doors. This has shifted the significant mass (120 kg) of the wheels to an area within the axles, and also lowered the center of gravity as a result. “You can really feel a massive difference. The new bakkie is much faster through twisty sections, and we’ve also worked a lot on the suspension to make it land better after jumps,” says Dakar veteran Giniel De Villiers.
The change in layout came largely thanks to new regulations, which allow the Toyota Imperial Hilux to be 60 kg lighter than before. In order to fully capitalise on this reduction in weight, the team decided to also maximise weight distribution for better handling and balance. In addition to the weight saving, the regulations now also allow for a slightly larger air restrictor.
This was done in an effort to level the playing field for the various different engine types that essentially compete in the same class – notably the turbo diesels that suffer less at high altitudes and in thick sand than the normally aspirated petrol engines, such as the motor used in the Toyota Imperial Hilux, do. At the same time, the new Imperial Toyota Hilux features a fully South African-developed suspension system, a new air conditioning system and many other refinements to the original race bakkie. All of this will be put to the test when Dakar 2015 gets under way in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 4 January 2015.
Next year’s route consists of a trans-continental loop, which visits Chile and Bolivia, before returning to Argentina for the finish back in Buenos Aires on 17 January. The Toyota Imperial South Africa Dakar Team will not be the only team fielding South African-developed Toyota Hilux race vehicles. As in the past, the South African team will receive logistical and infrastructure support from Belgian outfit Team Overdrive on the event. Team Overdrive also support a host of other Toyota Hilux competitors, including accomplished drivers such as Lucio Alvarez (Argentina), Bernhard Ten Brinke (Netherlands) and Yazeed Alrajhi (Saudi Arabia).
The two South African Toyota Hilux race vehicles depart for Argentina on 15 December.