Interview: Dakar Hilux V8 mastermind

Glyn Hall is a world renowned racing engineer, who happens to build the world’s best racing bakkies from a workshop in Gauteng. Although his formative years were spent in Wales, Glyn has been in South Africa for decades, winning the local rally championship as a driver, before coming to dominate most formula of local motorsport. Since the millennium his interest has been the Dakar, where his Toyota Hilux V8 bakkies are a crowd favourite. We sat down with him for a chat about the 2018 event, new rules and the ever-evolving Hilux.

It was expected that 2018 Dakar would debut the two-wheel drive Hilux buggy concept? Why was that abandoned in favour of the 4×4 Hilux?

We got to a stage where the buggy concept was showing great potential but there were complications with Nasser’s deal with Red Bull. They were already sponsoring Peugeot and wanted influence on a 4×4 option – ensuring a win in the race either way.  We were going up and down in a massive development area and then right at the end we got the concept much faster; Anthony drove the car in the Gold 400 and was as fast as the 4×4 across terrains that should have suited the 4×4. But this was shortly after Giniel said he wanted to be in the same car as Nasser… one-on-one…

Then Peugeot announced that the technical working group was re-looking at their future with the intention to build a 4×4, assuming they were to continue in Dakar for another three years.  There was a lot of pressure on the buggies because they were too ‘free’, the rules were written around amateurs rather than factory teams. Peugeot had already been pulled back a bit and in June this year they got pulled back a little more because the rules clearly weren’t right. The FIA’s new structure is aimed at changing the look of the cars and a bit of the details focussed around 4x4s so we made a conscious decision in February to take a two or three year view, based a lot on the buggy experience what we learned.

Do you think there will be a Peugeot buggy next year?

No definitely not. They are likely to invest a little more in World Rallycross with Loeb.

So was the decision to stick with the 4×4 based on the knowledge that Peugeot’s last year with the buggy?

I took all the facts before discussing it with Toyota Marketing. We came to the conclusion that the safer longterm strategy would be to focus on a new 4×4 car based on the research we’d done with the buggy.

You’ve changed the position of the V8 engine compared to previous years. Was that learned from the buggy concept?

We’ve changed the position of the engine, it’s a lot further back – exactly the same place as the buggy. We have a new type of spaceframe chassis, based entirely on the research we did with the buggy because with the new rules we have a new lower weight target. A lot of simulation work went into the new suspension geometry (front and rear) which was also derived as part of the work we did on the buggy and this latest Hilux features a completely new steering rack mechanism ALSO. There are a number of carry-over parts; the DNA of the car is very similar but the components are placed and weighted differently in the car. We’ve developed a new tyre with BFG/Michelin, on the same development criteria as the buggy, and while we can’t change the tyre size, this one is slightly wider and 5mm taller, to be right on the limit of the regulations.

Where have you been doing initial testing

The team did a lot of it here in North Pretoria at the test track. In terms of absolute racing kilometres we’re on target. When I drove the car for the first time it just felt immediately right, then Leeroy had a drive and he said the same thing.

What other changes have you been working on or is it a mild evolution of last year’s car?

The new Hilux has many different developments on it and we have had to evaluate each one to maximize the potential of the design

How has testing in Upington been. Last year you had some major revelations with suspension settings you learned from the buggy. What’s different on the 2018 DKR Hilux

Testing has been intensive and great, but because the concept is different we had had to learn many aspects of the new Hilux – differences on the new Hilux are numerous some of which are; engine position, gearbox position front and rear diff position, suspension geometry and chassis design. All this goes to weight distribution and balance, the drivers feel the differences, in fact the car on first impression gets a bit of getting used to but once acquainted then it’s all good.

Have the rules changed for 2018? Do you think it still favours the turbo charged cars?

There is some movement in the rules to close the performance difference between the top factory teams. Suspension travel on 4×4 has increased by 12% with the weight down from 1912kg to 1850kg – so that’s 4.5% which is measurable. On the Peugeot side (buggy) they’ve increased the minimum weight but we don’t think their change is as much as ours. Restrictor size remains the same (remember restrictor is determined by the average altitude) so the average altitude is just over 2000m. The rules are headed in the right direction; the rules we proposed were 15% suspension travel and the Peugeot weight should have gone up by another 80kg. This was the original agreed proposal and then it got changed during the year by the FIA.

Do you expect the competition to have updated their cars significantly? What have you heard or seen?

We know that Peugeot has found a loophole in the rules, specifically on the Dakar regulations, where the car can be another 200mm wider so that was a bit of a blow. When the car arrives in Dakar – so we understand – the width will be 2.4m rather than 2.2m. MINI has a buggy along with the 4×4 cars which have been updated to the new regulations.

Why did MINI choose that strategy?

The decision on the rules were taking too long and the development path is so intense. MINI couldn’t wait for the answer in June and they continued to invest in April when the original deadline was set. So they built a buggy, spent a lot of money doing so, while simultaneously developing a new 4×4.

Which is a strategy that Toyota/Hallspeed nearly attempted last year…

Yes. Focus is very important, you have to take double the spares and the logistics become very difficult.

The driver announcement is one of speed and experience

Nasser will drive for us again with Mathieu as co-driver. Giniel and Dirk pair up for another year in the other Hilux while the third one will be driven by Bernard Ten Brinke and Michel Périn. All three of our co-drivers have won Dakar, two of our drivers have won Dakar, Bernard is a previous stage winner of Dakar and European rally champion. Nasser has just won the World Cup again by winning every race he’s finished. So we are looking strong on the driver side.

Do you think given the budget of some teams that there is illegal route scouting happening through intermediaries?

I don’t think so, obviously we’ve discussed this in detail with the ASO because it’s so critical. They take a lot of trouble to ensure fairness; they change the printers where the books are being done, they change the methodology with which they give the various regions information. It would be very disappointing to hear that some teams have been scouting the route beforehand.

Dakar is the one place where diesel continues to dominate in motorsport. Considering the trend against diesel do you think a big change in regulations is pending?

There is a lot of discussion from the FIA regarding better balance using different engine controlling tools, turbo petrol will be allowed from 2019 onwards with the a maximum capacity of 3.5-litres, which  means we can use a 3.5 V6 twin-turbo. That engine has lower fuel consumption than the engine we’re using, more torque but slightly less power. So that’s part of our future plan. We understood that BMW was going away from diesel but now we’re hearing they might keep it until 2021.

Do you think there should be a race for the line for top 5 or 10 standings on days of flooding or extreme heat where the rest of the field is neutralised. Giniel has suffered in the past from shortened stages when he was gaining?

We’ve had it once in particular, where Giniel was leading by 30mins and the  stage was shortened which in our view was not quite balanced. I guess it either goes your way or it doesn’t. What they often do is if any cars pass a point, they give the cars behind them the average time compared to their performance. That’s the only way that they don’t compromise the fastest cars that open the road and get through, whilst the others don’t. In the rules they allow the organisation to award an average time or a fixed time to every competitor whose gone through the route. Is it fair? Now they have a lot more tools than they’ve ever had before to ‘finish’ stages more accurately to waypoints along the route. It’s one of those things you take on in desert racing.

The route is different this year?

We’ve got a pre-alert from the route so we have five days in Peru, which are all dune and dusty sandy gravel roads, then we will climb very quickly. To an average of 3500m in Bolivia but there’s fewer kilometres there which should help us. Then we’re going down very quickly into Argentina with two stages at reasonably high altitude

Last year the race was criticised for its vague waypoints and mapping which detracted from outright speed and turned it into a lottery of sorts. Do you expect the same this year?

They’re going to be vague again. It’ll be easier for the crews because Marc Coma has stamped his authority so they have a thing called WPC points which makes sure the crews must be on the route that the organisers want them to be on so navigation is critical, accuracy is critical driver confidence in his co-driver is critical. We certainly don’t want people shortcutting so we like the WPC system, let’s just hope the headings are a bit more accurate this year. They call them average headings because you have to circumnavigate some obstacles along the route.

How has the latest Northern Cape testing session go?

Last test in Goreapan – we complete the 1000km test with all 3 drivers, we focused only on the dampers and cooling as the temperature was 43 degrees on one particular day. The dampers are in the zone, which means drivers are happy and small changes can be felt, the car is good and the drivers are happy however Ten Brinke did not get the chance to feel the final spec. Cooling performance was very good and better than last year’s car and we fine-tuned the rear diff and gearbox, which are both components well hidden in the car, with less airflow and this needed more engineering to arrive at the final solution.

Overall we are happy with our performance, the reliability has being good however we have broken a few parts along the way which is what testing is all about, these components have been recalculated and new designs implemented. One of our strong points has always been Hilux’s reliability, proven during the previous four Dakars, we so we have a very high bar to match. We now have to do a final roll test on Giniel’s car and rebuild the test car for Ten Brinke, so this means another 300- or 400km to make sure everything is running correctly.


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