Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa (SA) has announced a three-car line-up for Dakar 2018. All three vehicles have been produced in South Africa.
The Japanese manufacturer first fielded a Toyota Hilux in the Dakar rally in 2012. The team could not secure a podium position in 2017, following its third spot in 2016.
Toyota stalwart and former Dakar winner, Giniel de Villiers, will again partner with German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz.
The pair won the race in 2009, securing four podium finishes in the eight years since their victory.
De Villiers recently clinched the South African Cross-Country Series championship with a round to spare, with navigator Dennis Murphy beside him.
De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz will be joined in the Dakar line-up by Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah and French navigator Mathieu Baumel.
The pair also raced with Toyota Gazoo Racing SA at Dakar 2017, winning the opening stage and leading the Dakar before retiring on Stage 3.
Al Attiyah and Baumel won their fourth FIA Cross-Country World Cup this year – their third in a Toyota Hilux.
“The Toyota Hilux has a reputation for reliability and durability,” says Al Attiyah of the car. “This new version is sure to take all the best characteristics of the previous model, and deliver new levels of handling and balance thanks to its innovative design.”
The third crew in Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s line-up will be Dutch driver Bernard ten Brinke, who will have French navigator Michel Périn beside him in the Toyota Hilux.
Ten Brinke is no stranger to the Dakar Rally, having taken part since 2012.
The three crews will all be driving the all-new Toyota Hilux, which features a mid-engine layout and a fresh suspension geometry. The new car conforms to the latest rules as set out by the FIA (motorsport governing body), and will race with a 38 mm air restrictor in Dakar 2018.
“The FIA has been working hard to try and balance the performance of the turbodiesel-powered cars and the naturally aspirated V8s, such as ours,” says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team principal Glyn Hall.
“This is an ongoing process, and while neither camp will probably ever be entirely happy with the rules, we are confident that the latest changes give us a better shot at Dakar 2018.”
The bigger restrictor, 12% increase in suspension travel and lower weight is sure to play a large role, as Dakar 2018 starts in the big dunes of Peru, where the soft sand will sap the Toyota V8 of power.
The race then moves to Bolivia, where the stages take place at extreme altitudes, before finally descending into northern Argentina for the final part of the race.
The 40th edition of the Dakar Rally starts in the Peruvian capital of Lima on January 6, and ends in the Argentine city of Cordoba on January 20.
“The Dakar Rally is undeniably the world’s toughest automotive race,” notes Hall.
“The terrain, temperatures, altitude and navigation all play major roles. But to us it is also the ultimate challenge, and we are looking forward to continuing our quest for glory this coming January.”
The Dakar Rally brings together more than 500 competitors from as many as 60 different nationalities.
The 15-day race takes place in three countries and covers more than 10 000 km.