Dakar Hilux meets the real Deal
This is not really a comparive test because these bakkies share only a name, a few lights and a Toyota badge. Still, it was a good excuse to once again marvel at South Africa’s finest racing vehicle export: Hallspeed’s Toyota Hilux V8. And to go for a ride with a young upstart with a very bright future.
FACTORY driver Henk Lategan appeared to be on a suicide mission. He was clearly pushing the 400 horsepower Hilux V8 too hard, driving over the limit. There we were, hurtling towards a sharp turn at nearly 170km/h (really!).
At the last possible moment, he slammed on the brakes, the Hilux scrubbing off speed at a ludicrous rate. Ludicrous because we were on slippery gravel and not sticky tar.
The Hilux was momentarily sideways. Then, with but the grace of some clearly undiscovered law of physics, the young Lategan managed to slide the Toyota through the corner, majestically.
From the passenger seat on the right, I had a quick peek at the driver, expecting perhaps, the look of a deranged madman.
Instead, he had a look of serene calm about him; like most of us would have when we drive to the local shop on a Sunday morning to buy the newspaper. Meanwhile, he was working the six-speed sequential gearbox, left-foot braking, catching slides, inducing slides, jumping the Hilux...
We’re again approaching a corner, way too fast.
Then, as if he was performing a magic trick, Lategan turned the Hilux sideways with one hand on the steering wheel, while the right hand bumped the gear lever forward to change down a gear – and it all happened in a split second. It was quite surreal as we blasted through the corner.
In that roundabout way, what we’re saying is that young Lategan, along with fellow Toyota Gazoo Racing SA legends such as Leeroy Poulter and Giniel de Villiers, are simply in another league when it comes to this type of driving.
Think you can drive? Then take a spin with one of these boys. You’ll never be quite the same again.
Back in the makeshift pit area on a farm north of Pretoria, the friendly young Lategan shrugs off the driving god praise.
“The Hilux is a really wellsorted rally car. I could go as fast in some of my privateer off-road racing vehicles, but the Hilux is just so much easier to drive at the limit, so well balanced,” he explained.
On that note then, let’s take a closer look at Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s latest Hilux V8: the weapon the team will use to take on the 2019 Dakar Rally.
A R7 MILLION HILUX?
White elephant in the room first: the racing Hilux only shares its name, headlights, grille and tail lights with the standard production Hilux Dakar. The rest of it is all designed, at great cost and through much testing and development, to go as fast, effectively and as reliably as possible in a tough offroad environment.
It starts with the custom frame. The technology behind it hails from the Second World War, explained team principal Glyn Hall, the legend behind Hallspeed that develops and builds these machines.
During the First World War, planes were manufactured from wood and fabric, clearly not a very sturdy combination. Lightweight aluminium frames, combined with powerful engines, changed the aviation game in the Second World War. And the Gazoo Racing SA Hilux essentially uses that same technology. A sturdy but light custom frame is thus the backbone of this Hilux.
The body panels are lightweight composite material items, designed to look like a Hilux.
In this latest version, the Lexus RC-F V8 engine, which produces 351kW and 540Nm of torque, has been relocated between the driver and codriver. If you open the bonnet, there appears to be no engine. This was done to improve the balance and handling, and it has also lowered the centre of gravity. A six-speed Sadev sequential gearbox sends drive permanently to all four wheels.
Dakar rules stipulate the use of air restrictor for the naturally aspirated petrol engines, ostensibly to keep the playing field level with the turbo diesel powered Dakar entries.
That air restrictor effectively throttles the engine at higher engine speeds. The 351kW of power is achieved at a screaming 7 000r/min in the road-going RC-F sports car, but in the bakkie, with the restrictor at play, the higher the engine revs, the more out of breath it gets.
“There’s really no point revving it past 5 500r/min, where it produces around 400 horsepower,” explained Hall. “On the flipside, we have more torque so the engine has more than 600Nm of torque, which is beneficial in most off-road racing conditions, where you want to blast out of slow corners and situations as effectively as possible. We do lose out a bit in top speed.”
HOW FAST CAN IT GO THEN?
“It gets up to 180km/h very quickly. It can ultimately reach 200km/h, but that last 20km/h requires plenty of space,” said Hall.
With the mega-budget Peugeot factory team pulling out of the Dakar to focus on rallycross events, a few rule changes were in the offing. All indications were that regulated turbocharged petrol engines would get the green light for the 2019 Dakar and the Gazoo Racing SA team were all up for it.
“Lexus has a new V6 twinturbocharged petrol engine that would have been perfect for the Hilux. We have it all ready to be installed at the workshop. But then the Dakar organisers decided to put the new regulations on hold. So for now we have to stick to the RC-F V8,” explained Hall.
The cabin of the Gazoo Racing Hilux is not the spartan, speed-uber-all business you’d expect. There’s air-conditioning, too. With two selectable speeds: low and high.
A comprehensive on-board diagnostics system with a central display can measure just about anything. From the temperature in the front differential to lap times to top speed, and everything in between. In front of the co-driver there’s a GPS for navigation during events.
The racing seats’ bases are air cushioned. Each has a little hand pump to inflate or deflate the air cushion, according to the conditions and mood of the crew.
“Think you can drive? Then take a spin with one of these boys. You’ll never be quite the same again”
The racing Hilux has other tricks, too. Like a hydraulic lift system for changing flat wheels. Press a button in the cabin, and hydraulic arms lift the bakkie off the ground in a jiffy. The spare wheels are now mounted underneath the cabin instead of on the ‘bak’ for better weight distribution. A batterypowered drill for loosening and tightening the wheel nuts lives in the cabin, too.
“We have managed to change a wheel in a whisker over a minute,” said Lategan. “That’s from being strapped into the seat, to changing the wheel, to being strapped into the seat again, ready to go.”
A 500-litre fuel tank lives behind the front seats, in a special FIA-specification fuel cell. At full tilt, the Hilux does 1km per litre of fuel... so that’s a range of 500km on that huge tank.
At R16 per litre of petrol, that’s R8 000 to fill the tank. Or R16 per kilometre. Or around R24 000 to drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town. That’s all irrelevant, of course – this bakkie is not about fuel economy. It’s all about speed.
Which brings us to the real secret behind the Gazoo Racing SA Hilux’s speed on a tough off-road track: the suspension.
Hall swears by Reiger Racing Suspension parts, and there’s two coil-over shocks per wheel. Even though this suspension has less travel than a standard Toyota Prado (thanks to the FIA regulations), the set-up’s ability to make light work of extremely challenging off-road conditions is simply mind-blowing.
It’s not just a case of fit-shockand-go-Harry-flatters either. Hall and his team famously spend weeks (and even months) testing the set-up in all imaginable conditions, with the slightest adjustments making a big impact in performance.
There’s the famous tale of Dutch company Reiger sending their top racing engineer to South Africa to assist the Gazoo Racing SA team with the set-up of their suspensions. However, he couldn’t come close to achieving the balance the team’s own crew had already achieved through their exhaustive testing.
It’s one of the main reasons why Gazoo Racing SA has been dominating the local off-road racing scene in recent times. Instead of resting on its laurels, the team is continuously working at improving and fine-tuning all aspects of the vehicles.
All this effort is obviously geared towards one thing only: the Dakar Rally. In effect, the local cross-country championship is purely a competitive testing ground for the team. The ultimate aim remains that overall victory in the toughest offroad event in the world.
“It looks like all of the exPeugeot factory drivers, with the exception of Sébastian Loeb, will be joining the Mini John Cooper Works team. That includes star drivers Stéphane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz and
Cyril Despres,” said Hall.
So the Toyota lads will certainly be up against it, with Mini’s two-wheel drive, turbocharged buggies enjoying the same suspension and highaltitude turbo advantages the Peugeot factory entries did. Besides the buggies, the Mini team is also expected to enter a small horde of 4WD vehicles.
So the fight is still very much on. Unlike in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, where Toyota mainly had to ensure its LMP1 hybrid cars made it to the finishing line to win; the Dakar is a different beast. A really tough, unpredictable one. One where a moment’s lapse of concentration behind the steering wheel can undo years of development and millions of rands invested. Or the slightest mechanical weak spot can end in tears.
There is no doubt that this Hilux is a world-class act. One that can spar with the best on the planet. Here’s holding thumbs all the stars align for the team in the 2019 Dakar Rally.
It certainly deserves it.
This page: The all-new Toyota Hilux Dakar Limited Edition stands quietly at the side of the road while Henk Lategan and his Toyota Gazoo V8 Racing Hilux literally fly past at 100-and-plenty. Absolutely glorious.
Above: Young Henk Lategan is Toyota Gazoo Racing’s new young gun. He cut his teeth on local rallies and some World Rally Championship action. He’s properly fast.1 -2: What? The same headlights on both vehicles? Indeed.3-4: And more of the same.5: Racing Hilux’s OMP steering wheel has a ‘speed’ button. Not sure why. It seems to be permanently on. No volume control button though. The driver uses his right foot to change the volume. 6: Very cute. And comfortable. And you can change stuff by pressing buttons on the steering wheel.
Below: Lightweight racing rims and 245/80 R16 BFGoodrich racing tyres… designed to last. And go fast in very rough places, all day long
Above: 18-inch alloys and 265/60 R18 Dunlop all-terrains. Cute.