The Dakar Rally is such an epic motor race it barely seems believable. For two weeks the bravest drivers and riders head off through the desert to tackle sand dunes, rocky canyons, water crossing and whatever else mother nature can throw at them.
To conquer it teams spend millions creating purpose-built prototypes, with a loose connection to something you might find in the showroom… or are they? Is the connection actually that loose? Or is the Dakar actually beginning to have a serious impact on what you and I can drive on our next 4×4 adventure?
The reality is a bit of both. The vehicles entered by Toyota, Ford, Audi and others share about as much in common with what you'll see on the street as Max Verstappen's Red Bull-Honda has in common with a Honda Civic. The top flight ‘T1' entries from Toyota and Ford are built around a tubular chassis with only some cosmetic similarities to the HiLux and Ranger, respectively.
These two nameplates will battle both in the Dakar dunes and the local showroom, as the fight between these two arch-rivals intensifies. These two are already duke it out on the sales charts, competing for bragging rights as ‘Australia's favourite new vehicle', as the ute cements its place as the new family sedan.
But in the same way the Bathurst 1000 acted as a catalyst for a generation of performance sedans from Ford and Holden, so too is the Dakar Rally helping to enhance the top end of the ute market.
The Ranger Raptor is Ford's hero model, on even terms even with the Mustang. And rightly so, with a 292kW/583Nm turbocharged V6 and race-inspired Fox Shocks that allow it to jump and slide across any terrain, the Raptor is the new age performance car that buyers want.
Which is why Toyota followed suit with the GR Sport, which is the most powerful HiLux model, with 165kW/550Nm, and wide track suspension with special dampers.
And with Ford entering the Dakar in 2024 as part of a multi-year program with the Ranger, expect things to only elevate from here. The next-generation HiLux is due in 2025 and you get a sense that the GR Sport is just a warm-up for what Toyota has in mind. In the same way Ford experimented with the 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel Raptor at the end of the lifecycle for the previous Ranger, before introducing this wilder, more powerful V6 turbo petrol Raptor with the latest model, so too will Toyota take another step up.
This battle between the Dakar foes will expand too, as it already has with the likes of the Nissan Navara Warrior, Volkswagen Amarok W-Series and rumoured Mitsubishi Triton Xtreme. So if you're a fan of fast, off-road utes, then you should be thanking the Dakar Rally for what you have now, and what's to come…