By: IOL Motoring Staff

Velizy, France - This is the car the new South African-built Toyota Hilux Evo will have to beat to have any hope at all of winning the 2017 Dakar Rally.

Not only did its predecessor win the world's toughest motorsport competition outright in 2016, at only its second attempt, but now the Hilux Evo and the Peugeot 3008 DKR will be competing directly against each other in the same class, because they're both two-wheel drive.

The body of the new rally-raider is based on that of the all-new Peugeot 3008 SUV, which will premiere at the Paris motor show in October. In fact, both were styled by the same designer, Sebastien Criquet.

“The new Dakar car keeps the distinctive design language of the road car,” he said, “but transports it into a rally context.

“And that's the dream job for any designer: when you create a car, you always have a competition version at the back of your mind.”

New regulations

The DKR's running gear, however, is directly derived from that of the 2008 DKR that took Stéphane Peterhansel to a record 12th Dakar victory in January, and Cyril Despres to his first win on four wheels in the Silk Way Rally in July.

“The goal was to take the weaker points of the previous car and make them stronger,” explained team director Bruno Famin. “But there are also some new regulations that we've had to comply with.”

Crucially, the size of the restrictor mandated for three-litre turbodiesels has been reduced from 39 to 38mm, knocking about 15kW off the DKR engine's peak power. But the organisers may actually have done Peugeot a favour, since this has encouraged the team to retune the twin-turbo V6 for better mid-range, a lower torque peak and more linear power delivery - in short, a more driveable package.

Upgraded suspension

Suspension is a key element in off-road racing, and nowhere more so than on the Dakar, where the terrain can change drastically from one end of a stage to the other. Famin's technicians made some successful upgrades to the geometry and damping on the 2008 DKR between the Dakar and the 15-day long Silk Way Rally, and these have been carried over to the 3008.

The team also installed a more effective air-conditioning system ahead of the Silk Way, which was run in the heat of the Asian summer, and that's been upgraded again for the 3008 DKR. The crews spend up to 12 hours a day in the cars, wearing warm Nomex overalls, in cockpit temperatures that can reach 60 degrees. Improved aircon will help them stay fit and focused, to get more out of the car without making silly mistakes.

The 2008 DKR was tough enough to win nine stages in 2016 (including seven 1-2s), but the Dakar takes in almost 10 000km of the world's roughest roads and things do break. The team went through the car from front to back, focusing both on mechanical breakages and electronic gremlins in complex processes such as engine management.

Top crews

Peugeot has entered four 3008 DKRs in the 2016 Dakar, to be driven by the world's most successful off-road racers - Stéphane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz, Sébastien Loeb and Cyril Despres - with 18 Dakar wins between them, and they will take some beating.

But the route - through Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay - will be all new for 2017, which will be the same for everybody (we won't talk about level playing fields here since the only sections of any Dakar Rally that are actually level are the notorious salt flats!) and Glyn Hall's Toyota crew are hungry for their first Dakar win, especially Giniel de Villiers, who has finished second, third and fourth too many times.

The 2017 Dakar Rally will probably be fought out between Peugeot and Toyota, with the BMW Minis snapping at their heels the whole way. Expect fireworks.

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