We visit Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Hilux race shop amid the buzz of final Dakar prep
Toyota Gazoo Racing is in the final throes of its exhaustive preparation for Dakar 2021. Auto enjoyed the privilege of visiting the team’s Kyalami headquarters on Monday. A frenzy of activity greeted us as Glyn Hall walked us through, from the design room to the finished cars. The atmosphere is mind-blowing amid the buzz. 40 crew members are flat out on the cars, parts and spares in various stages of preparation.
Most components used to build the race Hiluxes are made on site. Every part brought in is stripped, thoroughly inspected and tested. Critical parts known to have failed, are completely redesigned on site, quality controlled and checked to prevent future failure. Elsewhere technicians build, test and instal components in every available workshop space.
The team’s Dakar plan was compromised when the ship booked to move the crates broke down in Dar es Salaam. That has forced a late logistical change to air freight. Which has allowed the team to make the best of the days available to hone its preparation. The 30 crew members and the whole show then sets off fo Jeddah
PREPARATION, PREPARATION AT KYALAMI
Nasser Al Attiyah’s 2019 Dakar winning Hilux arrived back from another victory in Spain five weeks ago. It’s life extension took much of the team’s effort to strip it down, crack test, re-fettle and reassemble. That car was already dispatched to Saudi Arabia last week
The other three factory Hiluxes are currently in final preparation. Giniel de Villiers will race Fernando Alonso’s 2020 Dakar machine in 2021. Giniel raced that car in the local series, where it also ran the new Dakar V8 in the Parys finale. It is now well run-in with about 1000 km on the clock. The other cars’ engines will be run in on the dyno and tuned to Avgas for Saudi Arabia.
Each bakkie’s shock absorber units were rebuilt and tested on the damper dyno. 64 sets were made up and either fitted to the bakkies or made ready as spares. Gearboxes are fitted with the latest parts, while all drivetrain parts will be new at the start. And replaced again midway. Front and rear differentials will however race the full distance. Once ready, the trio of Hiluxes will be semi knocked-down to fit in the hold of an Emirates A330. And fly to Jeddah with the team.
TYRES THE BIGGEST FOCUS FOR DAKAR ‘21
A major part of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s 2021 Dakar master plan hinges around tyres. Punctures likely cost the Hluxes a Dakar win in 2018. For sure in 2020. It is also a challenge for a race driver to intentionally slow down to try prevent a flat tyre. So the team has focussed on preventing punctures this year.
To that end, and despite the challenges of lockdown, the Toyota Gazoo Hiluxes have completed a few successful Dakar tests. Permission was granted for de Villiers, Lategan and their navigators to test in the Namib. They ran a series of short tests in the dunes to develop and hone the set-up of the 2021 spec race Hilux.
Then despite an initial reluctance to do so through lockdown, BF Goodrich supplied its latest specification tyres for testing too. De Villiers ran a very rough road test to simulate worst racing conditions, using both the old and new rubber. The result was no punctures on either tyre. De Villiers also used the new rubber with mixed results at the Parys finale.
Talking testing, de Villiers and Lategan have just returned from a dune driving training session aboard a side-by-side machine in Dubai.
Moving on to the race, BF Goodrich have made 32 tyres available to Al Attiyah to use at the Dakar. De Villiers has meanwhile chosen to use the older tyre specification. To split strategy and hedge against punctures defining Toyota’s Dakar outcome. The team has also gone to the expense of ordering 80 tyres. So that every one fitted to the bakkies to start and all the spares are new, every day. Rather than keeping used rubber as spares.
BUT WAIT — THERE’S MORE!
Hall went on to outline the several changes to Dakar rules this year. Race organisers have finally reacted to out of control top speeds. The stages more technical for 2021 and there’s a 180 km/h speed limit too. “Our drivers now know that the buggies will no longer romp away at over 200 km/h,” Glyn explained.
“A theoretically ideal speed limit would be 164 km/h and the FIA recommended 170 km/h. Somehow the opposition still managed to get them to agree to 180 km/h!” Another unknown is the prospect of Sebastien Loeb and Nani Roma’s new turbo petrol Prodrive machine. Organisers have however tested the various cars and worked with the existing teams. A complex new formula equalises the newcomer’s power.
A further major change sees Dakar navigators using a full colour tablet. To fully digitally read their data, warnings and route notes for the first time in 2021. The route will remain secret until released 20 minutes before each competitor’s start time every day. This system also saves hours of manual navigation planning before each stage.
The Toyota crews all used the tablets to navigate the Parys route and are already familiar with the new system.
Also new for 2021, a new qualifying format sees crews race a 10 km qualifier near Jeddah on 2 January. Their times will determine the starting order for the actual race on 3 January.
All in all, it appears by the buzz at Kyalami, that Toyota Gazoo Racing is all set for Dakar 2020. The race starts on 3 January and ends two weeks later on the 15th. Auto will keep you right up to date, all the way through. Make sure to bookmark this page now! –
Reporting & images by Ken Hawkins