Over the years, we’ve established that Foton’s Tunland double cab is pretty tough. In 2012, we conquered the extreme Baboons Pass in Lesotho in a virtually stock-standard Tunland. Earlier this year, we completed the Road to Hell challenge in a Tunland customised by LA Sport. But what about off-road racing bakkie speed, and the ability to set a new overland speed record?
Cross-country racing is not so much about raw speed as it is about a vehicle’s ability to cover rough terrain very fast. So it’s about the complete package, with the suspension playing a pivotal part.” Off-road racing legend Hannes Grobler, a multiple South African champion (in rally, off-road and circuit racing), obviously knows what he is talking about when it comes to racing a vehicle at breakneck speed through the bush.
He was chatting to us a few years ago at a Nissan media event. We had just watched him drive his Nissan Navara factory off-road racer at about 80km/h on a narrow gravel road – the same road we had traversed earlier in stock-standard bakkies. That track was so rough that we had to engage low range and pick our lines carefully between the dongas. And then Hannes came charging over the same route at around 80km/h, sideways and airborne more often than not.“Besides the right suspension,” Hannes had continued, “you also need torque in the right places to power you out of the corners.
Sometimes, in tight and technical sections, you rarely exceed 100km/h, so the acceleration from 60–100km/h is more important than a top speed of 180km/h versus 200km/h.” Fast forward to 2016, and a Foton Tunland, parked outside our office. It is a standard Tunland, although it is adorned with a marketing wrap that focuses on the fact that the Foton is powered by a Cummins diesel engine. It’s at our office because we are going to turn it into a cross-country speed machine. Instead of slow-speed rock-crawling, this Tunland will be setting a new time record, racing at the best speed across tough terrain.
To achieve this, the Foton will receive a rather comprehensive upgrade. And we’ve partnered up with 4×4 Mega World to effect this motorsport makeover. This will include an Old Man Emu Nitrocharger suspension upgrade – which hails from a motorsport background. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. This Foton will be faster and more capable in a fast off-road environment than any other Foton before it. It will be upgraded in numerous departments to transform it from a humdrum double cab diesel bakkie into something that will make even Hannes Grobler’s heart beat little bit faster. For now, let’s take a closer look at the stock bakkie, and some of its unique attributes and planned upgrades.
The Tunland interior is reasonably plush, but it’s not as plush as a new Hilux, Ranger or Amarok. We’ll be looking at some subtle upgrades in here, too. This will certainly include a racing specification steering wheel.
Wheels The standard Foton wheels are 245/70 R16 units. The wheels look pretty good, but the tyres are more suited to highways than off-road conditions. Wheels and tyres will be upgraded.
Ground clearance Foton claims 220mm of clearance in stock trim. That’s not bad, but we’re going to improve it a bit. But, we’re also not going to lift the Tunland too high – for increased speed through off-road corners we need to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible.
Front bumper The standard front bumper will remain in place. Fitting an aftermarket bull bar will increase the approach angle but will also increase weight. And more weight equals less speed.
Spare wheel This wheel, currently located in a most practical location, will be relocated to improve weight distribution.
Exhaust We will be upgrading the standard exhaust with a free-flow unit. This will increase power and at least the Cummins diesel engine will sound the part of an off-road racer, too.
The standard 2,8-litre Cummins turbodiesel engine delivers 120kW of power and a handy 360Nm of torque at 1 800r/min. That’s not too shabby to start with, but we will be looking at ways to provide a few more horses without compromising reliability. Interestingly, besides the Cummins engine, the Tunland’s drivetrain is a proverbial Smarties box of international partners. Renowned transmission company Getrag supplied the five-speed gearbox, the rear axle hails from Dana and the transfer case is a Borg Warner system.
The 4×4 Luxury model gets leatherette (simulated leather) trim for the seats. The front pews are reasonably comfortable for normal duty, but are less suitable for racing across the veld. So they will be replaced by more suitable racing items.
Text: Danie Botha Photographs: Deon van der Walt