With less than four weeks remaining before their delivery to SAA on pallets for the flight to South America, Toyota Motorsport’s two Dakar Rally challengers are undergoing the most intensive testing programme ever undertaken by the team.  This includes their involvement in the final round of the domestic off road championship, the Gold 400 in Gauteng on Friday and Saturday.

Toyota Racing

Following a successful shakedown test, the evolution version of the Dakar Toyota Hilux has spent the past week racking up hundreds of test kilometres in sand dunes and dirt tracks on the outskirts of Johannesburg.  Giniel de Villiers flew up from his home in Stellenbosch to get acquainted with his new Dakar Hilux after Toyota Imperial South Africa team-mate Duncan Vos took the wheel for the initial shakedown.

De Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz, the 2009 Dakar Rally winners and third this year in an Imperial Toyota Hilux, will crew the 2013 evo Hilux.  Vos and Rob Howie will compete in the 2012 version in which they finished 10th in this year’s Dakar Rally. The Hilux has undergone continuous development during the domestic off road championship season and has acquired a lot of the new specification of the evolution vehicle.  Both are now powered by a 5-litre version of Toyota’s production all-aluminium V8 engine fitted with a 36 mm air restrictor to meet Dakar regulations.

“It’s been a really big week for us,” said Toyota Motorsport director and team principal Glyn Hall.  “After a massive achievement by the team in the workshop to get the new racing Hilux built and ready for testing in a very short space of time, we have successfully run it virtually from dawn to dusk every day this past week, in both sandy and rough conditions.

“So far we’ve had zero faults and that’s meant we’ve been able to concentrate on the vehicle’s performance, which we’ve improved considerably.  This has been great news for the team and has boosted our confidence for the great challenges ahead.  The designers, fabricators and assemblers have done a brilliant job under the most trying of circumstances.  Little sleep, lots of dedication and massive self-belief.  I’m very proud of them all.”

The next big test for the team is the Gold 400, the season finale of the Absa South African Off Road Championship.  Vos and Howie are leading the championship after winning three of the last six events and will be aiming to take the title for Toyota.

Toyota Motorsport has received special permission from the Off Road Racing Commission of Motorsport South Africa to run the evo Hilux ahead of the official competing field on both days of the race.  Sitting alongside De Villiers will be Francois Jordaan, who has won three national off road championships as a co-driver – with De Villiers in 2001 – and navigated De Villiers to seventh place in the 2004 Dakar Rally in Africa.

“We negotiated to use the Gold 400 to test the new Dakar Hilux and the fact that we’ve been allowed to do this is testament to the tremendous support we have received from the off road racing community since our Dakar adventure started at the end of 2011.  They are all behind Toyota’s bold programme to win the Dakar Rally by 2015,” said Hall.

“The Gold 400 route, which covers some 400 kilometres over the two days, includes high-speed open sections and some technical challenges among koppies and rocky sections.  It will be a really good test of the evo Hilux and will also give Giniel a chance to get to know the new vehicle’s characteristics and provide us with valuable feedback.

“This will be our last big chance to test some new components and set-ups in the vehicle under race conditions.  We will have a final ‘roll-out’ test of both vehicles on December 12, when Dirk will be here to accompany Giniel, before we partially disassemble and load them on to pallets for delivery to SAA on December 14,” Hall concluded.

Toyota Motorsport Acknowledges Its Dakar Sponsors, Specialist Official Suppliers and Technical Partners

Toyota, Imperial Toyota, Duxbury Netgear, SAA, SAA Cargo, Innovation Group, Toyota Financial Services, Blue Sky, Castrol, Donaldson, Edgecam, 4×4 Mega World, Mastercraft, Michelin, Mistral, NGK, Oakley, SKF, Spanjaard and TFM.

This article is also available in Afrikaans on the Motornuus site,  Read more about the Toyota Dakar Rally Team on the site.