Renault has highs hopes for the 2015 Dakar Rally. The French manufacturer wants a top ten result for its Duster team in this year’s race – and has relied heavily on South African off-road racing expertise to try and achieve this.
While the team officially falls under the auspices of Renaultsport Argentina, backed by Renaultsport in France, the two Duster vehicles that will participate in the 36th edition of the Dakar were co-developed and built by Thompson Racing in South Africa, a specialist race-prep business.
Renault entered the Dakar for the first time in 2013 with the Duster. In the hands of the Argentines Jose Mendoza Garcia and Mauricio Malano the Duster finished 29th overall.
With the experience gained from this event, the Duster was developed further by Renaultsport Technologies and in 2014 the Argentines Emiliano Spataro and co-driver Benjamin Lozada achieved a great result.
With the less powerful 3,5-litre V6 version they finished 14th overall and fourth in Class T1 for vehicles with normally aspirated petrol engines– the best result ever for an Argentinian team in the car section of the Dakar.
On the strength of this performance and new regulations for 2015, a new, lighter, yet stronger and more rigid space-frame for the Duster was commissioned. It was designed and built in South Africa under the guidance of motorsport engineer Stuart Thompson, a man renowned for his frame design and fabrication skills.
It was also designed to fit the bigger, more powerful VK50VE 5-litre V8 engine in the vehicle. This mill delivers around 250kW and 500Nm of torque and is similar to the engines used in the Regent Racing Nissan Navaras participating in our local off-road series.
The engine is mated to a 6-speed Sadev sequential gearbox specifically developed for off-road usage and besides a heavy duty multi-disc clutch and limited slip differential at the rear, the drivetrain also has a central and rear differential locks.
The special Dusters’ suspension consists of a double wishbone set-up in front with a four-link system at the rear with double-action Reiger dampers. Stopping power is supplied by big ventilated discs with 6-piston calipers.
In preparation for Dakar the Duster teams also entered three of the four rounds of the Argentinian cross-country rally series. Spataro and co-driver Lozada won one race and were the runners-up in another, while García and Malano were second in two races and finished third in the championship.
Valuable information was gained from this series, leading to some additional changes to the Dusters, and the team is now confident they can now compete at a level comparable with the top teams in the world.
Their goal is to improve on their performance in 2014 and to score a top ten finish in the 2015 race. To further strengthen the Duster onslaught, Renault Argentina has also upped the logistic support of the team.
More support vehicles and a team of 30 Argentine specialist mechanics, technicians and engineers will look after the vehicles.
This is crucial, as the 2015 Dakar, running through Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, will also include marathon stages – two days of racing when the support team will not be able to get to the race vehicles and where the driver and co-driver will have to do running repairs if required.
Whether the Dusters finish in the top 10 remains to be seen as the highly contested 2015 Dakar Rally may prove to be tougher than ever. If the preparation is anything to go by, aspirations of top 10 finish certainly seem within reach for the Renault Duster team.