Two's company, three's a party
Walvis Bay, Namibia – The dust may have settled after a gruelling seven-day final test in the dunes before the teams set out to Saudi for the 2023 installation of arguably the greatest off-road endurance test for man and machine, the Dakar.
A race so plagued with danger and dynamism that anything can happen along the way, which could end your race, and that is the high-risk/high-reward situation that keeps teams coming back. It is the one you want to win.
Catching up with an online press conference with the Toyota Gazoo Racing team, we're joined by the driver/navigator lineup of three T1+ Toyota Hilux contenders; Henk Lategan, Brett Cummings, Giniel De Villiers, Dennis Murphy and Nasser Al-Attiyah (on a zoom call from Qatar) and Mathieu Baumel. Mastermind and Team Principal, Glyn Hall, was also in attendance, answering questions and not giving too much away.
"Dakar 2023 is around the corner, and we are excited to take on the world's toughest automotive race with a three-car team in January. We've worked hard at refining our GR DKR Hilux T1+ over the year, and we're confident that we are well-prepared to take on the rigours of the race and our competition" – Glyn Hall.
Fresh from their South African Rally Raid 2022 championship, De Villiers and Murphy appear calm, collected, and confident. Something that silently screams, "We're up for the fight".
This year's changes to the T1+ class are mainly to level the playing field through the balance of performance. T1+ gets a 30 kW reduction in power, which is a substantial amount given the nature of the class that runs regulators on the turbocharging system that limits the power delivery to match that of a naturally aspirated motor. There is little to play with here. The focus has been on the suspension components and setup to maximise power delivery in changing conditions. The software has been tweaked to accept the latest racing fuel and ensure that the car conforms to the FIA's Balance of Performance requirements.
Henk's fitness is up, something he cited as a contributing factor in 2022 that could be improved upon, and he has done just that. He's feeling upbeat about the upcoming challenge, mentioning that all of the weak points from 2022 in the desert have been focused on in the last seven days. He's looking forward to turning the experience from 2022 into a result for the team. It's interesting to watch the transition from vibrant youth and all-out speedster to a more steady, reliable performer that comes with experience unfolding in front of our eyes. It's Henk's third Dakar. Toyota Gazoo Racing knows that and is playing the long game with him, leveraging off and soaking up the wealth of experience from Al-Attiyah and De Villiers.
When the topic was raised around Toyota not showing its true performance this year. Coming out this year saying that they're faster, remarks Glyn, lends the idea that perhaps that was the case, but this year's Dakar will reveal it all. This a tactical comment by Glyn Hall that shows he's a master at his craft.
There's stiff competition from all corners; Audi is hoping to turn their misfortune from 2022 around after showing such blistering initial pace. Add to that Mini's proven platform, and the 2023 Dakar is ramping up to be one of the most competitive and one that may have Toyota up against the ropes. But one thing we've learnt from motorsport is that your past successes do not ensure your future success, and Toyota knows that. They're more than capable of absorbing the pressure and leading the charge. Dakar 2023 is set to start on 31 December 2022 on the North Western Coast of Saudi Arabia. Put it on the calendar.
Words: Brent vd Schyff