What began as one man's quest for adventure back in 1977 has turned into one of the most treacherous and dangerous races in the world - the Dakar Rally. The twenty-eighth running of this world-class race began in Lisbon, Portugal, and finished in Dakar, Senegal, this year. The 5,619-mile journey winds over terrain consisting of everything from fine, deep sand to hardpan desert that has been baked by the sun for centuries. It should come as no surprise then that a race of this magnitude and caliber attracts some of the finest drivers and vehicles in the world.
Representing the United States were none other than world-class race driver Robby Gordon and his equally experienced and respected navigator, Darren Skilton. After competing in last year's Dakar Rally, Gordon and Skilton teamed up to create Team Dakar USA. Having firsthand knowledge of just what it takes to compete in such extreme conditions, Gordon and team knew that they would need an equally tough race car if they were to even think of bringing home a victory - in this case, a Hummer H3 with a full sponsorship program invloving Hummer, Jim Beam, Toyo Tires, and several others. The team set to work building a machine capable of taking on the brutal terrain that leads to Dakar.
Despite many years of experience building and racing SCORE Series trucks, the Team Dakar USA engineers and designers had to overcome a whole new set of challenges posed by the Dakar Rally. Issues such as the duration of the race, component life expectancy, weight restrictions, and power constraints were constant factors throughout the design process.
With a curb weight of 4,500 pounds, a powerful motor and transmission combination was necessary to make it through the sand dunes and other terrain encountered by the team. The powerplant for this racer consists of a rear-mounted, GM-designed, fuel-injected, 6.0L LS2-series V-8 with alloy block and heads built by Russ Oblenes at GM Racing. Special tuning and mapping software designed specifically for desert racing was provided and engineered by Scott Urshell and Todd Peterson of UMI Racing Technology in Phoenix, Arizona. The fuel system consists of twin fuel tanks, with Fuel Safe fuel cells that are capable of carrying 100 gallons of gas. Depending upon the terrain, the mileage range of the Hummer H3 varies, but in a worst-case scenario about 500 miles can be covered before a scheduled refueling.
Due to race regulations, power was restricted by the use of a sealed induction system that incorporated a 37mm inlet annulus for the fuel. A 4-gallon plenum is tasked with feeding double-filtered air to the engine. Bassani headers with a single MagnaFlow muffler keep the engine within noise limits. The Hummer H3 also uses a UMI Racing Technology Mefi 4 engine management system and software along with a UMI dash and data logger system. A five-speed sequential Albins/Weddel manual transaxle delivers power to the wheels via a multiplate Tilton Engineering clutch assembly.
Stopping power for the car is derived from a four-wheel-disc ProAm brake setup by Kartek Manufacturing. A special hand-operated "splitter" brake in the cockpit enables the driver to make tighter and faster turns by isolating the right and left rear brake systems - this is especially useful in deep sand.
A custom space frame was fabricated from 4130 steel alloy to ensure that the Hummer's durability was not compromised. The front suspension consists of double A-arms with coilover springs and specially valved, four-tube King bypass shocks, while the rear features 934-series CV joints and stub axles by Kartek Manufacturing. King coilovers and four-tube bypass shocks bear the Hummer's weight at each rear corner. The total vertical wheel travel for the front and rear suspensions is 20 inches.
While the exterior of the car may resemble a Hummer H3, the interior is all business with a bevy of switches, fuses, and buttons spread throughout the custom dashpanels. Specially engineered Sparco race seats were designed to minimize fatigue to the driver and navigator during the race, while a custom air conditioning system was integrated into the sealed cabin to minimize the extreme heat generated from the environment and engine. Twin Terratrip odometers with a KVH digital compass, twin GPS units with the Iritrac team navigation/locator units complete the directional units of the truck. It is important to note that in order to keep the competitors on a level playing field, the GPS units are purposely limited in accuracy by race organizers to place a premium on the team's navigation skills. Additionally, regulations do not allow communication systems of any type to be installed in the vehicles that may lend assistance in navigating the course. The Hummer is also equipped with the required Belize satellite tracking emergency homing beacon which, if activated, immediately disqualifies the entry.
The Little Monster H3 is an impressive vehicle. High-tech parts and intelligent engineering combine to make this an off-road contender, no matter WHERE it competes off-road. Only bad luck, which raises its ugly head at the most inopportune moments, was able to keep Robby and the H3 from making a stellar showing at this year's Dakar Rally.