Friday, 19 March 2021

Dakar Rally: A tyre or regulatory issue?

PHOTO CREDIT: Toyota GAZOO Racing South Africa.

The world's toughest rally raid, the Dakar Rally has come and gone, but it will always be remembered for two specific reasons. Let’s not keep you waiting. It’s time to dive in...

Winner winner chicken dinner! A phrase often used to celebrate victories. So, with that being said, let’s segue into the first talking point, as to why the 2021 Dakar Rally will be remembered. First of all, the strategic masterclass from Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Edouard Boulanger (X-Raid Mini JCW) is a main talking point. So, why use the word “Strategic Masterclass”? It’s pretty simple! From the outset, the French duo had one goal and one goal only – try not to open the road, and it actually paid off. Despite winning one stage (stage 9), Peterhansel and Boulanger clinched the 2021 Dakar Rally title. 

And, whilst winning will always be remembered... The second talking point or reason why the 2021 Dakar Rally will stay fresh in the minds of fans and drivers is due to one thing: Punctures. The T1 class 4x4 vehicles had more punctures than their two-wheel-drive counterparts, and Toyota Gazoo Racing SA is a direct example of this. The South African run team conducted pre-Dakar tyre testing after suffering from a number of punctures in 2020, but unfortunately, despite the hard work in trying to find a solution. The team had more punctures than expected. 

The Dakar Rally moved to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2020 for what it called “Chapter 3” in the ever-expanding history of the rally raid, which was won by Mini X-Raid JCW’s Carlos Sainz and co-driver Carlos Sainz, whilst Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Matthieu Baumel come out second best. 

The intense two-week rally raid sees competitors traverse through landscapes ranging from deserts, muddy terrain, ravines, and rocky mountain passes in intense heat, whilst aiming not to lose a tenth to their rivals. 

The Dakar is a challenge on its own… throw in a global pandemic, and it became a lot harder but thankfully, the Saudi Arabian government made it a bit easier for the event to take place in 2021. 

Having had a taste of the Saudi Arabian conditions in 2020 and its landscapes. Each team had an idea of what they could introduce or change on their vehicles for the 2021 edition. And, after coming out second best to Carlos Sainz in 2020, Al-Attiyah set his set sights on the overall victory in 2021, but work had to done to find a solution for the punctures that the team suffered in 2020. So, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA conducted pre-Dakar tyre testing with Giniel de Villiers and Nasser Al-Attiyah. The team was quite confident that they had found a solution are were ready for the 2021 Dakar. 

Unfortunately, it was not to be. The three-time Dakar Rally winner, Nasser Al-Attiyah brought his Toyota Hilux home in second-place yet again. The Qatari driver made it clear that this crew (co-driver and team) made no mistakes over the course of the two-week event, and despite claiming five stage wins, it was not enough for the overall win. 

Speaking after the Dakar, Al-Attiyah made it clear that the current sporting regulations clearly favour the two-wheel-drive buggies. 

“This is the second year that we are fighting, and losing against the buggies. We need to have fair rules,” the three-time Dakar Winner said. “No matter how hard we push, without speed along we can not close the gap. The buggies have been winning for five years against the 4x4 car because the rules have been done in their favour. I hope that organisers will change it, otherwise, we won’t be interested in coming [back].”

"It is not a question of where the buggy is better and where the 4x4 is better. The rules are not fair, just that. Not only because of the wheels, there are many things. I am not the one who has to change it, but everything is very clear,” he concluded. 

Having had a top speed disadvantage a year earlier, the FIA announced that T1 class vehicles, including Toyota and Mini X-Raid would be limited to 180km/h for 2021 after lobbying from Toyota. 

A slight step in the right direction for Toyota’s fight against the mighty buggies, but their 2021 campaign would be rather deflating. Deflating? Why, was it deflating you ask? Well, Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers led the charge but not a positive charge. Rather a deflating charge. The South African picked up more punctures than you can count on your hands over the two-week event. 

In total, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA had 106 punctures over 12 stages, with an average of 26.5 punctures across the four-car team. Is that even possible? Unfortunately, it was a reality for the team. Is it solely related to the tyres? It is a regulatory issue? Or is the landscape to blame?

Well, we can rule out the landscape. Why? Because these the routes are pre-planned by the ASO and the cars are built around regulations for the specific championships or series.

Henk Lategan, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA driver films an explanation of the difference between 4x4 and Buggy tyres.
Video Supplied By; Brett Cummings

In recent years, 4x4 vehicles were the way to go. However, there has been a recent shift to two-wheel-drive buggies. So, let’s discuss this a bit further. Peugeot was the first manufacturer to introduce buggies. The Frenchman manufacturer introduced the 3008 DKR buggy in 2017, which powered Peterhansel and Sainz to victory in 2017 and 2018. And, ever since then we have seen a growing field – Mini X-Raid JCW, Century Racing, Bahrain Raid Xtreme to name a few teams. To add to the conversion, Audi announced their intentions to enter the Dakar Rally in 2022 with alternative power. Can you guess the concept for their entry? Yes, you’re right! They are building a buggy. 

It’s pretty clear that buggies are the way to go, although 4x4 vehicles can still hold their own against the buggies. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.
There is a clear difference, from regulatory rules to the difference in tyres between the 4x4 vehicles versus the 2-wheel-drive buggies. The 4x4 has a larger footprint compared to the taller wheels on the buggies.

So, in order to get a better grasp of the main talking point “the punctures”, we spoke to BFGoodrich, and asked them a few questions.

As the number of punctures became a big talking point of the 2021 Dakar Rally, were there any specific issues with the tyres that led to so many punctures? And, how would BFGoodrich explain the increase in punctures seen this year?

“The 4x4 cars and 2wd buggies have differing rule sets which can ultimately affect performance. This includes, but is not limited to weight, wheel and tyre size; and suspension travel,” BFGoodrich said. “The AWD cars utilize a 800mm diameter tyre and are limited to 280mm of suspension travel. Whilst the 2wd buggy has a 940mm tyre and no suspension travel limit. In addition, there is a 270 kg weight difference between the cars again favoring the buggy.” 

Taking it one step further, Toyota GAZOO Racing SA highlighted odd circle-shaped punctures on their tyres over the course of the Dakar. Has BFGoodrich found a cause of these punctures or where they solely linked to the rocky terrain? 

In response to the question, BFGoodrich said: “The Saudi terrain proved extremely rocky and the smaller AWD tyre combined with limited suspension travel highlighted the vehicle limitations.” In other words, the terrain and limited suspension travel could be the cause of these punctures. 

So, with the 2022 Dakar Rally on the horizon. Can we expect any changes? Well, BFGoodrich says they are “working with both manufacturers and sanctioning bodies” on a way forward. 

Having heard from Al-Attiyah among other drivers. They believe that tyres aren’t really to blame. So what do the two-wheel-drive buggies have that the 4x4 vehicles do not? 

Well, the buggies have a slightly wider wheel width, and an inflation-deflation system that they can control from the cockpit. Wait! There’s more… the buggies also have greater suspension travel compared to the 4x4 vehicles, which is a bonus on rocky terrain. 

Whilst it’s easy to place the blame on a tyre supplier, and in this case, it’s BFGoodrich. We need to remember that they are given a set of guidelines/regulations, and they construct the tyres and compounds around those set guidelines. So, if we solely blame the tyre supplier then we are completely misguided.  

Having said that it is rather deflating to put so much effort into building a race car only to have it lose valuable time and drop out of the fight due to punctures. So, moving away from it being a tyre supplier issue. There is only one thing it could be. Yes, you guessed right! There’s a clear regulatory issue, which solely rests with the FIA. 

There are currently talks ongoing behind the scenes between the ASO and the FIA regarding an increase in the size of tyres supplied to the 4x4 vehicles, but will we see the introduction of these tyres in 2022? That we do not know as yet. However, we have learned from a reliable source that 4x4 manufacturers/teams are currently modifying their vehicles to accommodate these “bigger tyres”, and with that being said we could get that confirmation closer to the time.

Will we see changes to the sporting regulations in 2022? That remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the ASO and the FIA acknowledge that the current regulations do in fact favour the two-wheel-drive buggies. 

Written By - Junaid Samodien

No comments:

Post a Comment