16 January 2020

A brutal few days of racing and mixed results for both Hino trucks

Dakar Rally

Stage 4 - Neom > Al-`Ula
Liaison > 219km - Special > 453km

Stage 4 of Dakar Rally 2020 was held from Neom to Al ‘Ula. A 453km SS (timed section) was set for this stage, and Hino Team Sugawara’s Car 1 crewed by Teruhito Sugawara/Hirokazu Somemiya/Yuji Mochizuki finished 12th in the trucks category and maintained their 13th place in accumulated rankings.

Car 2 piloted by the Ikuo Hanawa/Yudai Hanawa/Mayumi Kezuka crew?which, due to a problem during the SS on January 6 (stage 2), returned to the bivouac with assistance from their mechanics. Any help throughout the race by mechanics results in a discontinuation from the competition, but it can still undertake the course under the organiser's "Dakar Experience" program for racers who have been excluded from position rankings or awards.

This day’s stage took racers on a 123km liaison from Neom on the Red Sea coast, first traveling southward and then inland where they started on a 453km SS. Weaving through intermountain areas of 2,000m class mountains, this course took contestants to altitudes of between 1,200 and 1,500m. The first half mainly consisted of sandy ground, but things changed after the halfway area where teams tackled risky road surfaces with surfaces made of sedimentation of fine powder-like sand under which countless rocks lay hidden. Not only did these conditions make for an uncomfortable ride, the latter part of the stage kept racers from driving any faster than 10-20km/h as they struggled to avoid the huge rocks in the area, making this day a test of perseverance for crews. 

Thanks to the performance of its carefully tuned shock absorbers, Car 1 put in a great performance in the SS which transitioned from high-speed piste (unpaved road) in the early sections to wadi (dried river beds) and twisty roads. While the truck suffered a puncture on its rear-left tire in the last part of the stage from a cut caused by a rock, it finished the rest of the SS without a hitch. Just before this incident, Car 1 had stopped on course to aid a bike racer who had crashed, but this had no effect on Car 1's racing time as the organiser offset the duration of time that the crew was involved in helping out the biker.

Teruhito Sugawara (Car 1 Driver)

The road book showed smooth road surfaces all the way where we could pick up speed, but the roads were actually quite terrible to the point that they could have caused serious vehicle damage. The SS was divided into three parts. The first part was very dusty, the next was high-speed, and the third part had a lot of rocky ground where we couldn't pick up speed. The road got worse the further we went. There was a stretch of several tens of km’s where the ground was just covered with rocks and we saw many vehicles who had flatted their tires. Since we've had to change our tires a few times already during the race, we are seeing the benefits of having a three-person crew. I'm looking forward to the dunes tomorrow.

Hirokazu Somemiya (Car 1 Navigator)

This was the toughest course in the last four days for both the truck and crew. We had no navigation problems. We punctured a tire once and I'm glad that we were able to act quickly.

Ikuo Hanawa (Car 2 Driver)

Thanks to our mechanics' repairs, the truck is doing great. While we were up against a difficult section today after our brief hiatus, we were able to drive quite well without any errors or problems. The best way to develop a rally vehicle is to actually race it rather than perform tests on it over and over again. Even today, we were able to identify areas in AT control and front stabilizer specs that we could improve. I am going to test out a variety of modes of driving for future reference.

Dakar Rally

Stage 5 - Al-`Ula > Ha'il
Liaison > 211km - Special > 353km

Teams have finally reached a full-fledged dunes stage. On January 9, contestants raced the 353km SS (timed section) of stage 5 between Al Ula and Ha'il where they were faced with a non-stop string of dunes for roughly 200km in the latter half. Hino Team Sugawara’s Car 1 demonstrated the Hino 500 Series excellent mobility to finish the SS 12th overall in the trucks category.

With two days to go in the first half of the rally, the day's competition was again set in the highlands in the northern part of the country. After traveling on 80km liaison out of Al Ula, the SS started in an intermountain area at an elevation of roughly 1,000m. The first half of the SS was similar to that of the previous day, and consisted of relatively high-speed piste (unpaved road) that wove between boulders as well as hard rocky surfaces. This was followed by dunes that started at the 155km point right up to the finish line area. These dunes, however, were not made up of groups of dunes that crews had to traverse in succession as they searched for their lines, but were a continuity of large mounds of sand with grass outcrops and extreme ups and downs. 

After the SS finish line, contestants drove on a 132km liaison to reach the Ha'il bivouac where their assistance crews waited. On January 10, the last day of the first half of the rally, teams will race a 477km stage stretching from Ha'il to Riyadh, the country's capital city.

* Car 2, which had a problem in the stage 2 SS, did not start stage 3 and underwent repairs instead. The truck resumed its journey on the course in stage 4 under the organisers "Dakar Experience" program for those who have been excluded from awards.

Teruhito Sugawara (Car 1 Driver)

We've finally reached the dunes but they were not that difficult. I was able to assess the trucks condition on the dunes so I am looking forward to the remainder of the race. We'll be doing our best tomorrow as we're in a good position going into the second half.

Hirokazu Somemiya (Car 1 Navigator)

I enjoyed my first experience on full-scale dunes. The descent from the dunes was steep and it was eye-opening to see the ground right in front of us when we reached the bottom. We got all of our way points (points that contestants must pass in addition to checkpoints) so I think I was able to fulfil my basic navigation responsibilities.

Yudai Hanawa (Car 2 Navigator)

Navigation was a breeze today and we had no problems. It's disappointing that had to withdraw from the competition but we intend to finish all of the SS’s to build up our experience.

Dakar Rally 3
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