Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa has its eyes on a big Dakar 2017 showing, key to which will be its all-new rally car. Like the vehicle it ran this past January, the new model is based on the Hilux pickup. Only this time around it has some radical departures, including a mid-engine layout and 2WD system. The new Hilux Evo is lighter, faster and more balanced than its predecessor. Will it have what it takes to triumph?

Though it's a pickup truck, Toyota's Hilux competes as a car in Dakar, not so hard to understand when you see the likes of the MAN and Kamaz monsters that compete as trucks. At Dakar 2016, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA secured a third place finish in its Hilux car, 2009 Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers at the helm.

When you're looking to inch your way up the leaders board, it never hurts to pay close attention to what the champs are doing. In this case, the champs are Peugeot Total and what they did in developing the 2008 DKR two years ago was opt for 2WD, which opened up a host of advantages under the regulations, including lighter weight, increased suspension travel, and larger tires. After a disappointing Dakar 2015, the strategy paid off this year with the new, improved 2016 DKR.

It sure looks like Gazoo SA and Toyota South Africa Motors have been paying attention, because the new Hilux Evo they revealed last week follows that same 2WD formula. Limiting driven wheels to the two rears has given Toyota much more room to improve other components and tweak weight.

The new Hilux Evo will hover around a target weight of 2,866 lb (1,300 kg), 1,355 lb (615 kg) lighter than the 4x4 Hilux. That might seem like an awful lot of weight loss for simply dropping two driven wheels, but the drop is related to Dakar's lower minimum weight standards for 2WD vehicles versus 4WDs.

Using 2WD also paved the way for other changes, the most dramatic of which being the move to a mid-engine layout. The V8 engine, or more specifically the 5.0-liter 2UR-GSE from the Lexus RC-F, has been mounted between the axles, along with the transmission. With the heavy components concentrated lower, the center of gravity has dropped into a sweet spot.

"Essentially, this is our take on what a two-wheel-drive Dakar challenger should be," says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team principal Glyn Hall. "We've taken all the testing and real-world experience we gained with the four-wheel-drive Toyota Hilux over the past five years and repackaged it in the lighter, faster Toyota Hilux Evo."

The Hilux Evo rides on larger 37-in tires (up from 32 in), carries a new tire inflation/deflation system and has increased suspension travel, all nice things to have when running over rugged, variable terrain for 5,600 miles (9,000 km).

"The important thing for us was to retain as much as possible from the previous vehicle in terms of suspension setup and engine tech," Hall continues. "With this in mind, we've stayed with the same proven, state-of-the-art V8 engine and used all our knowledge when designing and setting up the suspension."

One final improvement that the Toyota team seems particularly pleased about: it'll be able to run a larger 38 mm restrictor, which will allow the naturally aspirated V8 to breathe and produce more power. Toyota also says it's the first time that it'll be running the same size restrictor as both Peugeot and Mini (the 2016 #2), which it hopes will help in its mission.

The 2016 Hilux marking up the desert

The Hilux Evo will undergo testing and refinement before being shipped to South America toward the end of the year in preparation for the Rally, which gets started on January 2.

De Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz will again be driving for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, joined by returning team members Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie and new additions Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel, the team that drove Mini to second place at the 2016 Dakar event.

Source: Toyota

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