A WEEK of concentrated testing in the Namib Desert, near Walvis Bay has taken Toyota Motorsport South Africa a big step forward in their preparations for the 2014 Dakar Rally in South America from January 5 to 18.
It will be the third time the Toyota Imperial Dakar Team tackles the world's longest and toughest motor race following a third place in 2012 and a second in 2013. The team will again enjoy sponsorship support from commercial partners Imperial Toyota, Duxbury Netgear, Innovation Group and Toyota Financial Services.
2009 Dakar winners Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz, third in 2012 and second in 2013, and Imperial Toyota Hilux team-mates, Dakar rookie Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie, who navigated Duncan Vos to 10th place in 2012, travelled to the vast, open expanse of desert, some 32 kilometres south east of Walvis Bay and within 18 kilometres of the Atlantic Ocean. Here they took advantage of the combination of sand dune fields and gravel tracks closely resembling the geography they will experience in the Dakar Rally.
"Since our success in the 2013 Dakar Rally in January we have continued our development of the Toyota Hilux in the Donaldson South African Cross Country Championship, which is one of the toughest and most respected national championships in the world," said team principal Glyn Hall.
"The local championship gives us the opportunity to test the reliability of the vehicle's components. For the rest we've come to Namibia - for the sand dunes and the semi-desert environment that is so similar to geography of the South American coastal areas, specifically in Chile's Atacama Desert, reputed to be the driest in the world."
The team, under the ever-watchful eye of Hall, has been concentrating on setting up the chassis and suspension of the Hilux and also worked on the aerodynamics, brakes, gearing, drive train and new air conditioning, the latter greatly appreciated by Giniel and Dirk . Poulter took full advantage of the opportunity to drive the Hilux in the sand dunes for the first time.
"The weather conditions were perfect for the entire week enabling the team to complete over 2 000 kilometres of valuable testing in the desert," said Hall. "We got through our very full programme of tasks and nearly all were completed with good results, especially the new suspension. A great team effort. We still have some issues to sort out, which is commonplace when you are developing new ideas.
"We now need to complete the two new Dakar bakkies that are under construction in our workshop and apply what we've learnt this past week in Namibia. There is still a lot of work that lies ahead and the pressure will be on until we deliver the Dakar vehicles to South African Airways early in December."