Mini and Audi are also going for the win.
The 2023 Dakar Rally kicks off on 31 December 2022, and Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) is set to defend its 2022 title when Nasser Al-Attiyah took first place in his Gazoo Racing Hilux in 38h33:03. Al-Attiyah has been competing in the Dakar Rally since 2004, back when the race started in Paris, and the competitors raced south toward Dakar in Senegal.
He has four wins under his belt and is well-known for his all-out aggressive driving style with no sense of self-preservation. Al-Attiyah is joined by his navigator, Mathieu Baumel. TGR is also fielding two other teams with drivers from South Africa. Giniel de Villiers is partnered with Dennis Murphy, while Henk Lategan (also South African) has Brett Cummings as his navigator.
This year the race ends on 15 January in the city of Dammam in Saudi Arabia. For the first time, the race spans the entire Saudi Arabian landscape from coast to coast, right through the Rub' al Khali, more commonly known as the Empty Quarter.
The three rally cars have been assembled and given a thorough shakedown. These racing machines are fascinating and have almost nothing in common with the Hilux, a smaller and less luxurious Toyota Tacoma for foreign markets. The Gazoo Racing Hilux has a mid-mounted twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 borrowed from the new Lexus LX.
Toyota has spent a lot of time refining the Hilux since its Dakar victory earlier this year. The Dakar merely serves as the starting point for the World Rally-Raid Championship established last year, which Al-Attiyah won in Morocco a few months ago. Think of the Dakar Rally as the off-road equivalent to the 24 Hrs of Le Mans. It's a famous race all on its own but also part of a larger overall championship.
Toyota will need to bring its A-Game because the competition will be tough. The equally famous X-Raid team recently debuted the 2023 Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus, and the South-African built Hiluxes will also face tough competition from the Century Racing buggies, also built in South Africa.
But the most prominent rival comes in the shape of Audi's RS Q e-tron. Earlier this year, Audi made history by entering the first EV into the Dakar Rally. Audi made some mistakes, but crucially, it also recorded some stage wins, proving that the concept works. The RS Q e-tron has since been massively improved due to lessons learned in the 2022 Dakar Rally, and we have a suspicion that the Germans will at least give Gazoo, X-Raid, and Century a headache.
"The Dakar Rally really is the big one! We've had a great year, winning the first-ever W2RC title. But we'd love to add another Dakar victory to the list, and we are sure that the car is good enough to bring us that win," said Al-Attiyah.