Desert ea­gles

A thrilling ride in a Dakar rally car – and a jaunt across the dunes in a lim­ited-edi­tion Hilux Dakar – left me in no doubt that these are two of Toy­ota’s tough­est, most pow­er­ful ve­hi­cles, able to con­quer even the most chal­leng­ing test ter­rain

Destiny Man - - WHEELS -

For a sec­ond, I wanted to pinch my­self in dis­be­lief. There I was, in a rally car, with Giniel de Vil­liers, Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing SA’s cham­pion rac­ing and rally driver, and a vet­eran Dakar Rally win­ner. But we weren’t in the in­tim­i­dat­ing deserts of Latin Amer­ica – we were in an iso­lated test drive spot out­side Uping­ton in the North­ern Cape. With its rugged, wide-open ter­rain, its per­fectly mim­ics the chal­lenges of rally route driv­ing.

The in­te­rior of the rally car was far from be­ing the “pol­ished” cock­pit you’d ex­pect in mod­ern ve­hi­cles. The dash­board fea­tures a wealth of com­po­nents that re­flect and track all sorts of per­for­mance data, in­clud­ing our (ter­ri­fy­ing) speed. Be­tween our seats was a mon­strous gear lever that De Vil­liers con­tin­u­ally and deftly changed, and I was re­minded of Mad Max: Fury. At some point, I gave up try­ing to guess what each com­po­nent was for and suc­cumbed to the sheer ex­hil­a­ra­tion of the ride.

BRACE FOR THE BUMPS…

Although I had a hel­met on and was firmly strapped into my seat, noth­ing could have pre­pared me for the tu­mul­tuous ter­rain, or the in­vol­un­tary jerk­ing of my head and body as we tra­versed the rocks, sand and dirt at bone-shak­ing speed. When the 10-minute ride was over, some­one in the group re­marked: “Imag­ine be­ing in a real Dakar race and jerk­ing around like that for eight hours ev­ery day for two weeks [the time it takes to com­plete the Dakar]. It’s com­mit­ment rac­ing!”

That ob­ser­va­tion makes you ap­pre­ci­ate the im­mense task rest­ing on De Vil­liers’ shoul­ders as he and the team con­tinue to aim for glory at Dakar, a race he won in 2009. As it turned out, the Toy­ota team also used our Uping­ton out­ing as prepa­ra­tion for the gru­elling Toy­ota Kala­hari Botswana 1000 Desert Race that was sched­uled for a few weeks’ time.

THE LIM­ITED-EDI­TION HILUX DAKAR

Also put through the test in Uping­ton was the all-new Toy­ota Hilux Dakar. Based on the Raider mod­els, the Dakar’s off-road­ing abil­i­ties were on dis­play when we took a lan­guid drive on the sur­round­ing sand dunes. This time, I was at the wheel.

Our driv­ing in­struc­tor had re­peat­edly pointed out that tak­ing it easy – the com­plete op­po­site of what De Vil­liers had just done in the rally car – and ac­cel­er­at­ing at the right mo­ment were the key to driv­ing over dunes of loose sand. “If you get stuck, sim­ply re­verse and try the path again,” he ad­vised. “Get­ting stuck is noth­ing to be ashamed of.”

Thus re­as­sured, I avoided get­ting stuck on the trail, although there were mo­ments when keep­ing the steer­ing wheel steady on the loose stand was chal­leng­ing.

With its tall build, the Hilux Dakar of­fers im­pres­sive ground clear­ance. Its rugged ex­te­rior left me in no doubt that the dunes would be con­quered with ease, while its re­fined in­te­rior, com­plete with an LCD multi-in­for­ma­tion sys­tem, en­sured a com­fort­able drive.

Even on the road back to Uping­ton, the car han­dled con­fi­dently, de­liv­er­ing a smooth and ma­jes­tic jour­ney and show­ing off its strength, dura­bil­ity and ca­pa­bil­ity.

Phakama Mbonambi

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