Tagging along with Robby Gordon's Team during a Dakar Test Session
By the time you read this, Robby Gordon and Toyo Tires will have already competed in the legendary Dakar race that takes place every year in January. Having just claimed the overall victory at the 2006 SCORE Baja 1000, Gordon felt more confident than ever about the upcoming Dakar effort. However, just finishing the grueling 16-day race that started in Lisbon, Portugal, and ended more than 5,000 miles away in Dakar, on the west coast of Africa, is no easy task. So we jumped at the opportunity to ride along during one of Gordon's test sessions at Dumont sand dunes located near Baker, California.
Learning from the experience of competing in the 2006 Dakar race, the team made several changes to the vehicle this year, including an upgrade from a five-speed Albins/Weddel transaxle to the faster-shifting sequential six-speed unit. There's also a more aerodynamic body, thanks to wind-tunnel testing in partnership with General Motors, a reworked radiator coolant system, and a new engine package with increased horsepower and torque. We were even lucky enough to hitch a ride with Gordon in the improved H3. We were impressed at how nimble the vehicle felt in the sand dunes. Fast 90-degree turns, like the one shown here, were child's play.
The Hummer shares the same-size 37x13.50R17 Toyo Open Country M/T tires as those used on Gordon's Baja winning Trophy Truck. According to Gordon, "During the Baja 1000, my Toyo Open Country M/T tires were trouble-free and delivered outstanding performance. I look forward to a great run on these tires at Dakar." During 2006, the team logged considerably more test miles on the revised Hummer H3, including using it to prerun a majority of the Baja 1000 race course. On the day we shot this, Gordon's mechanical team was testing out a new CTIS-like tire inflation system. Although somewhat concerned about the vulnerability of the air lines, both the team and Robby were impressed with the system and its ability to change and monitor tire pressure over a variety of terrain.
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In Dakar, there are 15 different stages that total a whopping 5,410 miles. Unlike Baja, each stage is followed by a brief period of rest at the end of each day. Assuming you don't have any mechanical problems to solve, each team has a chance to catch up on sleep and strategize about the next day's stage. The stages feature a fast-changing pace; high-speed stretches alternate with technical legs, and intense navigation is critical. Racers must be skilled, on the lookout for the slightest of traps, or else they will not make it to the next stage in time. To learn more about the race, log on to www.dakar.com. For more information about Robby Gordon and Toyo Tires, log on to www.toyo.com.