Dakar Hilux meets the real Deal

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Text: Danie Botha Photographs: Peet Mocke

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.

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