Renault’s Duster is back – and ready to take on the Dakar, arguably the world’s toughest motorsport event – once again.
The marathon off-road race kicks off from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 3 2016, and the line-up will include two SA-built Dusters entered by Renault Sport Argentina: a ‘facelifted’ one for Argentinian motorsport hero Emi Spatoro and the year-older version for experienced Frenchman Chris Lavieille, who achieved 6th in 2015.
The updated version of Renault’s tough-as-nails compact SUV thus spearheads the brand’s charge and will incorporate learnings from the 2015 edition – a 9 000 km epic. Spataro proved this year that the Duster is on the pace, by recording top-three stage times in the T1 class. He however lost many hours – and the chances of a top 10 overall finish – midway through the event which dropped from 12th to 25th. He recovered to be classified 21st.
“Motorsport is extremely unpredictable at the best of times, but the Renault Duster is clearly capable of a strong result,” says Smith. “The Dakar personifies many of the qualities of the standard, showroom-spec Duster and we will be watching keenly to see how our South American colleagues fare next month.”
The 2016 Duster has once again been built by Thompson Racing, and was shipped to Argentina for testing in late-November. The changes are significant: there’s a refined front suspension design and along with improvements to the tubular ‘spaceframe’ chassis (which comprises some 80 metre of chrome-moly tubing) have resulted in a lighter yet stronger car. The body panels, previously made from fibreglass composite, are now moulded from carbon fibre.
The total weight saving is in the region of 100 kilograms. All-up weight, ready to start the race, will be in the order of 1 900 kilograms, a large percentage of that coming from the 450-litre fuel tank.
The powertrain comprises a 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine from Renault partner Infiniti, producing approximately 235 kW at the wheels. With a longer engine air intake system along with revised electronic engine management means it’ll now have more low-end torque than before. It also has a larger radiator (cooling proved to be marginal on some stages this year) and the gearbox – a six-speed sequential unit – has been moved backwards for improved weight distribution of the all-wheel-drive machine.
The new Duster also features air conditioning, and a number of refinements have been made to the cabin to reduce fatigue – a major factor in an event during which the crew may spend up to 50 hours ‘in the office’ at race pace, tackling some of the planet’s most challenging driving conditions.
Says Stuart Thompson from Thompson Racing, the Kyalami-based builders of the Duster: “Our current car was fundamentally very good but in this sport you have to keep on improving otherwise you get left behind very rapidly – you can be sure that our rivals haven’t spent 2015 sitting on their laurels! Having witnessed the Duster in action this year, I knew which areas we had to work on when we were commissioned to build this car some four months ago – we’ve addressed all the issues and can head to South America feeling quietly confident.”
“If the Duster’s ability and popularity on South African roads is anything to go by where well over 8 500 cars have sold, then the Dakar Duster has every chance of springing some surprises at this year’s event through Argentina and into Bolivia and then back into Argentina for the finish on January 16. It is an amazing race, but then again the Duster is an amazing vehicle!” concluded Smith.