Toyota made history at the 2012 Dakar Rally in South America when three Toyota Hilux pickups built and developed in South Africa by Toyota Motorsport finished third, sixth and 11th in an 8 000-kilometre 15-day marathon that saw the original 161 starters in the car category reduced to 79 at the finish.

dakar team

It is now a matter of record that 2009 Dakar winners Giniel de Villiers and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz achieved a remarkable third place on the podium in a Toyota Hilux pickup backed by Imperial Toyota, Duxbury Netgear and the Innovation Group. Team-mates Duncan Vos and Rob Howie were 11th in the second Imperial Hilux, while Argentine privateer Lucio Alvarez and Bernardo Graue were sixth in a Hilux entered by the Belgian Team Overdrive.

The Dakar Rally is the world’s longest and toughest motor race and just to finish it is an achievement. Several factors make the all-South African Toyota effort all the more remarkable.

It is the first time a Toyota Hilux has competed in the Dakar and the maiden appearance of a Toyota in the top T1 class, dominated for the past three years by Volkswagen’s prototype Race Touareg and for seven years before that by Mitsubishi’s purpose-built Lancer prototype.

The Dakar Hilux was built for the 2011 Absa South African off road championship and their production V8 Toyota engines are restricted in accordance with regulations that have been accepted internationally, including for the Dakar as from 2013. Of the many cars that adhered to this future Dakar specification referred to as class T1.5, which did not include the semi-works BMW twin turbo-engined Minis that finished first and second, the South African Toyotas finished first second and third – an encouraging result that bodes well for the future.

Most remarkably, all three cars completed the 8 000-kilometre journey through Argentina, Chile and Peru, which included over 4 000 kilometres of racing special stages, without any mechanical problems. The punishing conditions included high-speed stages through desert scrubland, dry river beds and canyons, maximum temperatures above 40 degrees Centigrade in the Atacama Desert and a high altitude (4 700 metres above sea level) crossing of the Andes Mountains in sub-zero temperatures.

The result achieved by Imperial Toyota Team South Africa would have pleased any team on its first attempt, regardless of the available resources and technical know how. For this team to have done so in a only few months with a comparatively modest budget is quite astonishing and a feat of which every South African can be proud.

From the time the announcement was made at the Johannesburg International Motor Show on October 6 that Toyota Motorsport would contest the 2012 Dakar, team principal Glyn Hall and his engineers, fabricators and technicians burnt the midnight oil to ready the cars for shipment to the start in Argentina in early December.

2012 dakar

Preparations included competing in the last two rounds of the South African championship as well as five days of testing in the sand dunes of Namibia. This latter experience was invaluable to Vos, who had never raced in dunes before and was making his Dakar debut. For de Villiers, it was a first chance to familiarise himself with the Toyota and to share the priceless knowledge and experience he had gained in eight previous appearance in the Dakar.

dakar press conference

To the surprise of many the Toyotas were on the pace from the very first stage in Argentina on January 1. In fact, De Villiers completed the entire event without ever falling out of the top five and running as high as second on day four and in the top three for the last four days. His consistency and the reliability of the Toyota ensured that he was always in contention.

Vos improved with every stage as he became accustomed to the conditions and did well to place inside the top 20 almost throughout and four times in the top 10.

Team principal Glyn Hall comments: “We were aiming for a top 10 finish and privately hoping we would make it into the top five. To finish third at our first attempt and to have all three in the top 11 is an achievement of which we are all immensely proud. We could not have done it without the bravery and skill of our drivers and co-drivers or the dedication of a support crew who worked night and day to prepare the cars for the rally and then again for 14 consecutive nights to ready the cars for the next day’s stage.

“We are also very grateful to our sponsors, Toyota South Africa Motors, Duxbury Netgear and the Innovation Group, and the many other South African companies that supported us and made it possible for us to go on this great adventure.”

Toyota Motorsport Acknowledges Its Dakar Sponsors and Specialist Official Supplier and Technical Partners

IMPERIAL Toyota, Duxbury Netgear, Innovation Group, SAA, TFM, 4×4 Mega World, Blue Sky Satellite Communications, Castrol, NGK, SKF, Ferodo, Spanjaard, Edgecam, Mastercraft, Donaldson, Oakley, Sparco, Shatterprufe, Supreme Spring and Savino del Bene.