By now the frequent visitors Race-Dezert.com should be aware that we are covering the 2015 edition of the Dakar. As media, you have four choices to attend the event. Be embedded as a teams assistance vehicle, fly from bivouac to bivouac in the press plane provided by ASO, or bring your own vehicle and be classified for assistance road (highways) or race course. We opted for the assistance route since this is our first first-hand encounter with the Olympics of Off-Road racing. Qualifying for the race course route also has higher requirements on your vehicle, like roll cage, 4+ point seat belts, helmets and additional safety items are mandatory.
We took a 2014 model 4wd Toyota 4Runner SLR for our adventure after some useful modifications were applied.
Each corner features a 2.5inch (63mm) Fox Shox setup. Up front it’s a high adjustable coil over while in the rear the stock springs remained in place. The remote reservoir features Fox’s DSC Adjuster to fine tune the high speed and low speed compression rates separately through a clicker wheel. We now can drastically set the driving characteristics to best suit our preferences.
After some testing the past months we settled for a 6/6 (out of 1-10 click setting) up front and a 4/4 in the rear since the rear feels a bit stiff and bumpy compared to the front. This combination works well for us for most general street road conditions. Once the majority of driving becomes offered it takes a few moments to soften up things.
To allow the front upper a-arms to cycle to their fullest, we opted to replace the factory ball joint setup with a set of Camburg Upper Control Uniball arms. This prevents potential bind and allows for more articulation.
Wheels and Tires
For wheels, we picked a set of KMC XD Series XD122 Enduro’s 17×9 in Matte Black. Not being a huge fan of imitated bead locks these rims offer some pattern at the bead to get away from the mundane while still offering a conservative overall look. Keep it simple was the idea here. We matched this up with black lug nuts.
Toyo Tires provided us with their Open County R/T.
This relatively new tire has been surprisingly pleasant so far. It’s aggressive thread that continues into the upper section of the sidewall not only gives it the look that screams “Take me Off-Road” but also protects the rubber against those obstacles that could ruin your day. Typical road noise associated with Mud Terrain Type tires is simply not there. They are audible above what you may experience from All Terrains under certain road and speed conditions, but if noise is dictating your tire choice then this one is a non issue. We haven’t tested them off-road yet but hope to have things to report after our Dakar trip.
Hidden behind the factory grill we installed a Rigid Industries Flood/Spot Combo 30” LED light bar. This bar fits tightly inside the air-dam in front of the radiator for maximum optimization of its horizontal width. We love the camouflage look that this setup provides. It doesn’t draw attention to itself unless it turns the darkness in front of your driving path into blinding brightness. For mounting we simply welded together a few pieces of 3/8 square tubing to create our own custom bracket.
Since we didn’t want to drill too many holes into this new car we piggybacked the wiring into the factory fog lights. Now activating the fog light also turns on this very impressive source of light. Unlike HID lights, LED’s fire instantly and consume little power. This setup draws around 120Watt but outshines the factory high beams with ease.
Stacking all your luggage in the factory cargo area of our 4Runner works well for trips with a single start and destination point, but when one has to live out of it for two weeks, access to each item is essential so shelving system was needed. We used basic square tubing and aluminum sheet metal for our three shelf unit. Again, we opted for a non-intrusive install that allows us to revert the car back to factory warranty covered vehicle. Our shelf is held in place by three ratchet straps.
Our daily food and beverages for the road is being kept cool by a ARB refrigerator unit that is wired on a permanent 12Volt power source. During some testing we where able to retain close to freezing temperatures for 5+ days without having to start the car. It draws a high amount of power to initially drop the temperature from ambient to cold. Once the refrigerator reaches its set temperature the power consumption is fairly low.
To cram even more gear with us a roof rack was needed. We love the low profile look that the Baja Rack offers. It makes the car look sleek at the small expense of missing side support to secure items. Most time year around this roof will be empty hence we picked it based on look more so then functionality. The roof is sturdy enough to let an adult climb on it while arranging cargo items. There is a cut out for the Toyota factory shark fin antenna.
In the unfortunate event of getting stuck in sand we have a pair of Maxtrax sand ladders mounted to our roof. Our race car has the same setup and its product that has helped us more then once while venturing around Baja Mexico.
To ease our journalistic duties while driving, we will try a Ram Mount laptop holder. Many police cars use the very same contraption to use a laptop while in motion. The system swivels into various directions, can be tilted towards the operator and the height is adjustable. The laptop is clamped in by spring tension and in tests while driving around city streets it worked as advertised.
A.S.O. mandates this Tripy device to be installed in every vehicle that is a part of the race. It is a navigational device giving turn-by-turn navigation for the assistance routes and most importantly it records all traffic wrongdoing. It is a built-in traffic cop that will report back to A.S.O. on any infractions. A.S.O may then asses a financial penalty and disqualification for repeat offenders. This device is permanently powered for the duration of the Dakar. We will give this a more in depth writeup throughout the coming days.
To keep all of our electronic tools (laptop, cameras, battery chargers etc.) charged up we need to generate 110Volts of electricity. The Toyota 4Runner comes with its own build in power inverter, but it has limitations that where not acceptable for our needs. We picked a Xantrex 1000 Inverter. Again this is wired to a permanent car battery power source and can be operated independent of the motor running. Power output is 1400Watts peak and 1000Watts permanent. Conversion efficiency is in the high 90% and it draws very little power while sitting idle. This inverter is rated as one of the best choices in its class by various product reviews.
Tow straps are mandatory to have onboard and are obviously a very good idea to have when off-roading. Speedstrap sponsored us with 2 sets of their interwoven straps in addition to a three-point ratchet strap with quick release hooks. We have used the Speedsstrap tow strap in the past and are big fans. Hopefully we never have to use them during this trip.
12 Volt Setup
In order to sufficiently power our ARB refrigerator and inverter we added two group 31 deep cycle batteries in the trunk area in a typical marine House/Engine setup. A BlueSea automatic battery separator makes sure that the trunk battery bank gets disconnected from the Factory 12Volt system while the car’s engine is not running and producing a charge. We also have a manual battery selector switch wired into this to override the separation process and be able to 100% isolate or connect things if needed. All of this was mounted a small compact board above the factory car battery.
This is our first Dakar that we’ve attended in person with a press vehicle, and to celebrate this accomplishment we wrapped the car in a unique way. We wanted to tell the story of this year’s route. Starting in the rear window this year’s Dakar route is drawn clockwise around the entire car until it finally finishes in the same town we started. Every stop of the race is being represented with a dot, the name of the city, some basic information and a hand drawing of local landmarks. Our long-time friend and graphic contributor Miguel Blanco did the artwork and it seems to be huge hit with everyone. LogisticaMente from Buenos Aires did the wrap install and went beyond themselves to make sure we get this done during the Christmas holidays. At this point more people have shot our car than we are able to count and we get the constant hunk and thumbs up while driving around town.