The final round of the 2016 Donaldson Cross-Country Championship takes place near the mining town of Glenharvie this weekend, and Toyota Gazoo Racing SA will again be fielding three vehicles. The team has already wrapped up the championship, thanks to a stellar performance by Leeroy Poulter and navigator Rob Howie, who placed their Toyota Hilux on the top step of the podium on every round they entered.
With the championship in the bag, the team continued to push for points, in order to ensure the manufacturer’s title for Toyota. At the same time, the South African national championship offered a fantastic platform for testing, as the team prepares for Dakar 2017.
“We are very fortunate that the South African conditions allow us to test and prepare so thoroughly for Dakar,” says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz ran the new Toyota Hilux Evo during the Sun City 450, and the car will be in action again this coming weekend.”
With that said, the team has been testing both the Toyota Hilux Evo and the current Toyota Hilux four-wheel-drive concurrently, and while the Evo has proven its pace over rough terrain, Hall’s team also made significant strides with the four-wheel-drive.
“Our latest testing data shows that we’ve unlocked even more potential in the four-wheel-drive Toyota Hilux. That, together with the larger air restrictor that we will be running in 2017 due to the higher average altitude of next year’s race, means that our existing vehicle will be highly competitive,” continues Hall. “The result is that we’ve made the decision to campaign the four-wheel-drive Toyota Hilux on Dakar 2017, rather than fielding the new Toyota Hilux Evo.”
Hall based his final decision on the performance of Nasser Al-Attiyah and navigator Matthieu Baumel, who recently won the Rally of Morocco in a four-wheel-drive Toyota Hilux. “This is the sensible option at this point in time,” says Hall. “Even though the Toyota Hilux Evo’s performance surprised us from the very first tests, the two-wheel-drive configuration has been a massive technical challenge. The team needs more time to access the full potential and it would be very easy to lose focus in the next few weeks leading up to Dakar. The four-wheel-drive has proven to be ultra-reliable in the past Dakars, and we now have more performance than ever before. In the end it is all about giving our drivers the very best equipment possible.”
Despite the shift in focus, the team will continue working on the development of the Toyota Hilux Evo, and the car will be in the hands of Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy during the Atlas Copco 450.
“Anthony and Dennis will be giving the Toyota Hilux Evo a good run, and gathering a lot more data in the process,” says Hall. “But at the same time Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz will be getting reacquainted with their four-wheel-driven Toyota Hilux, now equipped with an array of upgrades for them to sample in race conditions”
Conrad Rautenbach will again be standing in for Leeroy Poulter, who is still recovering from surgery. Rautenbach is no newcomer to the team, having finished third on this year’s Toyota 1,000 Desert Race, and second on the recent Sun City 450 – both times behind the wheel of a Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux.
The Toyota Hilux has proven itself again this year, having not only won the Donaldson Cross-Country Championship title in the hands of Poulter/Howie, but also by adding the FIA’s Cross-Country World Cup to its tally of championships, thanks to the spectacular performance by Al-Attiyah/Baumel, who will also be taking part with Toyota Gazoo Racing SA at Dakar 2017.
Fans can see both the Toyota Hilux and the Toyota Hilux Evo in action this weekend, at the Atlas Copco 450. The race gets under way with a 100 km-long qualifying race at 11:30 on Friday, 28 October, followed by the main race on the morning of Saturday, 29 October. The Designated Service Park will again be situated at the Kloof Country Club in Glenharvie, and access to all areas is free of charge for the public.