The 2013 Dakar Toyota Hilux, which will be heading to South America this month
The 2013 Dakar Toyota Hilux, which will be heading to South America this month

WITH just a couple of weeks remaining before their delivery to SAA on pallets for the flight to South America, Toyota Motorsport’s two Dakar Rally challengers have been undergoing the most intensive testing programme so far undertaken by the team.

This included their involvement in the final round of the domestic off-road championship, the Gold 400 in Gauteng.

Following a successful shakedown test, the evolution version of the Dakar Toyota Hilux has spent time racking up hundreds of test kilometres in sand dunes and dirt tracks on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Giniel de Villiers flew up from his home in Stellenbosch to get acquainted with the new vehicle after Toyota Imperial South Africa team-mate Duncan Vos took the wheel for the initial shakedown.

De Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz, the 2009 Dakar Rally winners and third this year in an Imperial Toyota Hilux, will crew the 2013 evo Hilux. The new entry has undergone continuous development during the domestic off-road championship season and has acquired a lot of the new specification of the evolution vehicle.

Both are now powered by a 5l version of Toyota’s production all-aluminium V8 engine fitted with a 36mm air restrictor to meet Dakar regulations.

"After a massive achievement by the team in the workshop to get the new racing Hilux built and ready for testing in a very short space of time, we have successfully run it virtually from dawn to dusk every day this past week, in both sandy and rough conditions," said Toyota Motorsport director and team principal Glyn Hall.

"So far we’ve had zero faults and that’s meant we’ve been able to concentrate on the vehicle’s performance, which we’ve improved considerably.

This has been great news for the team and has boosted our confidence for the great challenges ahead. The designers, fabricators and assemblers have done a brilliant job under the most trying of circumstances. Little sleep, lots of dedication and massive self-belief. I’m very proud of them all."

The next big test for the team was the Gold 400, the season finale of the Absa South African Off Road Championship. While they did not manage to reach the top step of the podium on the event, the pair did manage a superb second place which ensured they took home the championship title for this year.

Toyota Motorsport received permission from the Off Road Racing Commission of Motorsport SA to run the evo Hilux ahead of the official competing field on both days of the race. Sitting alongside De Villiers was Francois Jordaan.

"We negotiated to use the Gold 400 to test the new Dakar Hilux and the fact that we’ve been allowed to do this is testament to the tremendous support we have received from the off-road racing community since our Dakar adventure started at the end of 2011 ," said Hall.