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Catching a Breath on The Dakar Rest Day: What About The Crews in The Bivouac?

The Dakar is all about adventure and proving to be the best of the best. Drivers and co-drivers find themselves in the spotlight for obvious reasons. They are the ones conquering the elements, challenging extreme conditions and pushing to get to the finish line in Buenos Aires. The truth is: the Dakar would not be what it is without the dedicated crew next to them: the engineers and mechanics. The team’s crew plays a very important role before and throughout the whole rally. Without their knowledge and support, the Dakar would be an impossible rally for all.

In the Dakar, all vehicles take a beating from the elements, such as sand, dust, mud, rocks, water and rapid temperature change to name a few. This puts every vehicle to the test. The 4WD Hilux and Land Cruisers have performed very well so far due to their vehicle setups and preparation. Nevertheless, anything can happen on the Dakar that can instantly spell trouble for any team. This is why every Toyota team has a special group of skilled engineers and mechanics to get the vehicles repaired and diagnosed ready for the next day.

After the drivers enter the bivouac, the crew gets to work. We’ve seen complications arrive from vehicles arriving late due to vehicles getting stuck, lost, or being chewed up by the Dakar. The pressure on the crew to prepare for the next stage becomes a race against the clock to get the vehicles “Dakar-ready”.

Being an engineer or a mechanic on a team means knowing you have to work at a high level. Only the best and most fearless drivers and co-drivers are selected to conquer the Dakar. The same goes for the engineers and mechanics that are not afraid of long days or puzzling vehicle issues on the Dakar. It is not about technical knowledge alone. Their physical and mental condition must be on-par with the drivers and co-drivers.  Their performance must be 100% every single day to reach the finish line.

Personality at the core

Team support consists of mechanics and engineers who are, most of the time, together for many years already. This means they know each and personalities work well together. This is important especially when the race is tough, like this year. Ricardo Sacramento, supervisor for Overdrive Toyota: “Most of the time, it’s getting difficult in the middle of the first week until the middle of the second week. In this stage we have to work hard, without much sleep. Only during the marathon stage are we able to get some rest, due to the fact the drivers are on their own.”

Although the Toyota competitors are driving 4WD Hilux and Land Cruisers, every vehicle is unique with its own quarks and personality. “Like the drivers and the mechanics, even the vehicles can be stubborn. But this is what the Dakar means. Trying to overcome every challenge.” Therefore every team works with a checklist every day. Everything has to be right. “We perform the “spanner check”, to check if every component is secured. In the end it is, most of the times, about the brakes and the ball joint of the suspension”

TLC (Team Land Cruiser TOYOTA AUTO BODY) are currently in 1st and 2nd place in the production category, with third place being over an hour an ten minutes behind. The teams have rallied and united behind the spirit of “One Toyota” and are truly experiencing that every day in the Dakar, the roads build the people.  

Director of TLC Yuji Kakutani, “Both cars have been performing as expected in the first half of the race. While #332, Akira Miura and Laurent Lichtleuchter, has experienced some light suspension damage, overall we have faced few problems. We came here after sufficient training both back home in Japan and abroad, so we are here without any anxiety. I believe that everyone can make it to the end goal and that the Land Cruiser will make it to the top of the production category.”

Teams are also taking the Dakar as a learning experience to not only stay sharp but for future rally preparations. #327 and #332 mechanic Yuki Nishimura said, “This is my first time participating in the Dakar Rally and I am here to help out with mechanical support, whenever the cars need it. This year we participated in the Silk Way Rally, held in Russia and China and the difference of the damage that we have sustained in the Dakar is very surprising, the suspension has taken a real beating. As it is my job to test the Land Cruiser in every way, I am learning new things every day in the Dakar. From this, I have had many new ideas on how to improve the quality, durability and reliability of the vehicle so that we can truly make it the King of 4WD. The roads build the people and the Dakar has helped build me as a mechanic.”

Toyota not only strives for getting to the finish in Buenos Aires, but also to the podium. This goal can only be achieved with the best vehicles, equipment and the people behind it all working together.

Awaiting the competitors tomorrow: The Dakar begins its return course by heading towards its familiar stomping grounds since 2014. The Uyuni casern, which is well known to the raiders, will once again be transformed into a bivouac for a day. The marathon stage leaves the competitors on their own. There is no external service available. This means the 7th stage is an important one for the overall rankings and could be a game changer all.

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