Traditionally, the first major motorsport event of each calendar year is the Dakar Rally, the most famous long-distance rally of them all. During 2020 the global pandemic had an effect on preparations of organisers, teams and drivers, but nevertheless, Toyota Gazoo Racing worked tirelessly to further hone the racing version of the Hilux for the team’s Dakar Rally assault. So what is in store for Toyota at the 2021 Dakar Rally?
Last year Toyota Gazoo Racing had to settle for second position overall, with its valiant effort stymied by a succession of punctures. Unsurprisingly, the target for this event is to repeat the milestone first outright Dakar Rally victory taken by the Hilux in 2019.
The truncated global motorsport calendar meant Toyota Gazoo Racing has had fewer opportunities than it might have liked to thoroughly test the Hilux in competitive environments.
Last month the team took part in the Baja Ha’il double-header, the final two rounds of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas. The latest development of the Hilux came through this shakedown event with flying colours, displaying frontrunning pace.
Toyota at the 2021 Dakar Rally – entries
Toyota Gazoo Racing has entered four examples of the distinctive Dakar Hilux, with a mix of experienced and relative newcomers to the sport. The team will again be spearheaded by 2019 winners Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, while Giniel de Villiers and navigator Alex Haro will be sure to mount a strong challenge.
New to the team is double South African cross-country champion Henk Lategan and his navigator Brett Cummings. The latter finished second in the testing Malle Moto category for motorcycles in 2014.
The team also includes former South African champion Shameer Variawa, who will be taking on his second Dakar Rally. He will have multiple South African champion navigator Dennis Murphy beside him in the car.
Additionally, two Land Cruisers will also participate for Toyota in the 2021 Dakar Rally, entered under the Toyota Auto Body banner.
|Car number||Driver (NAT)||Navigator (NAT)||Vehicle|
|301||Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT)||Matthieu Baumel (FRA)||Hilux|
|304||Giniel De Villiers (RSA)||Alex Haro (ESP)||Hilux|
|330||Shameer Variawa (RSA)||Dennis Murphy (RSA)||Hilux|
|332||Henk Lategan (RSA)||Brett Cummings (RSA)||Hilux|
|340||Akira Miura (JPN)||Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA)||Land Cruiser|
|345||Ronald Basso (FRA)||Jean Michel Polato (FRA)||Land Cruiser|
Toyota at 2021 Dakar Rally – technical changes
The latest Dakar Hilux is a further development of the car that won the race in 2019, with refinements to many parts. One major change is in the exterior design, which now reflects the latest version of the production Toyota Hilux.
The suspension has been comprehensively re-tuned, while a new exhaust system has brought an improvement in the low-down torque curve of the naturally aspirated V8 engine from the Lexus RC-F.
Due to a daily battle with tyre deflation throughout the 2020 Dakar Rally, Toyota Gazoo Racing has worked with Toyota Motor Corporation and Gazoo Racing Company to adapt a new tyre pressure monitoring system from the recently launched GR Yaris for the Hilux. This is an unusual role reversal where road car technology is being transferred back to rally cars, but is then expected to be tested to the limits in the white heat of competition.
TGR also worked with partners at Motul to adapt the electronics and programming to ensure the new monitoring system works well with the Dakar Hilux.
Where is the 2021 Dakar Rally taking place?
Like last year’s event, the 2021 Dakar Rally will take place solely in Saudi Arabia. However, the terrain is all new and event organisers have devised a more technical route compared to that used in 2020. The intention is to reduce the amount of flat-out sections which place the emphasis on outright power, and create more of a challenge with winding tracks, desert dunes, sand mountains and stony plateaus.
After a prologue on 2 January, the competing crews set off from the city of Jeddah on 3 January.
This year the route will follow an anti-clockwise direction, heading south towards Bisha. From there, the rally will complete a stage at Wadi Ad-Dawasir, and then swing to the northeast for a one-night visit to the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Two more stages follow before the rest day in the city of Ha’il on 9 January, signalling the start of the second half of the rally.
Competitors will head north to Sakaka, before swinging westwards to the future city of Neom for two stages. Finally, the rally turns southwards via Al Ula and Yanbu, before reaching the finish in Jeddah on 15 January.
What is the full schedule for the 2021 Dakar Rally?
|Date||Special stage||Start – finish location||Total distance|
|Saturday 2 January||Prologue||Jeddah – Jeddah||129km|
|Sunday 3 January||SS1||Jeddah – Bisha||623km|
|Monday 4 January||SS2||Bisha – Wadi Ad-Dawasir||685km|
|Tuesday 5 January||SS3||Wadi Ad-Dawasir||629km|
|Wednesday 6 January||SS4||Wadi Ad-Dawasir – Riyadh||813km|
|Thursday 7 January||SS5||Riyadh – Buraydah||624km|
|Friday 8 January||SS6||Buraydah – Ha’il||655km|
|Saturday 9 January||Rest day||Ha’il||–|
|Sunday 10 January||SS7||Ha’ll – Sakaka||737km|
|Monday 11 January||SS8||Sakaka – Neom||709km|
|Tuesday 12 January||SS9||Neom||579km|
|Wednesday 13 January||SS10||Neom – AlUla||583km|
|Thursday 14 January||SS11||AlUla – Yanbu||557km|
|Friday 15 January||SS12||Yanbu – Jeddah||452km|
Toyota at 2021 Dakar Rally – key quotes
Glyn Hall, Team Principal: “The 2021 edition of the Dakar Rally is more than just another race. In the turmoil of 2020 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the rally seemed at times as if it would never happen. Even so, we continued to work on the development of our Hilux with our eyes on taking on the challenge, despite a lack of international rallies.
“Now, just a day away from the start of the event, we are extremely proud to be here, and we are confident that our car is ready to challenge for the title again for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. Recent comments by our main competition, Carlos Sainz, was highly encouraging. He rated our Hilux as strong competition, and we will continue to push ourselves and our Hilux to the limits, in order to put up a good fight.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah (Car No. 301 and overall 2019 Dakar Rally winner): “I know that the team faced many challenges to develop and prepare the cars for Dakar 2021. Even getting here was difficult. But we saw in Ha’il that the Hilux is really fast, and as reliable as ever. So, I am looking forward to the race, and will be doing my best to recapture the title for Toyota Gazoo Racing.”
Giniel de Villiers (No. 304): “Saudi Arabia proved to be a worthy host country for the Dakar in 2020, and it quickly became clear that winning here would not be easy. We’ve worked hard to prepare our car for the upcoming race, taking into account the lessons we learnt here last time. I’m confident that we have a great car, and I’ll be pushing for a good result for Toyota Gazoo Racing.”
Henk Lategan (No. 332): “I have a mix of emotions, as the start of Dakar draws closer. On the one hand, I’m nervous about taking on the world’s toughest race; on the other, I know the Hilux is extremely capable and reliable. I really want to get going now, and see if I can translate the speed we’ve developed in the South African championship to the stages of the Dakar Rally with Toyota Gazoo Racing.”
Shameer Variawa (No. 330): “The latest version of the Hilux has proven to be an extremely fast and highly reliable car. I can’t wait to take on the dunes of Saudi Arabia for the first time with Toyota Gazoo Racing, as my last Dakar was in South America. I’ve been fortunate to race the Hilux for some time now, and I’m confident of the car’s capabilities in any conditions. Now I just need to get the first stage behind me.”
Toyota at 2021 Dakar Rally – how to follow the action
Eurosport’s channels will be broadcasting highlights of each day’s action. Check listings for broadcast times by clicking here. Toyota Gazoo Racing will post regular updates on the team’s performance on its social channels.