Enter the sandman
Racecar Engineering|February 2021
Tom Coronel swaps his WTCR programme for the now Saudi Arabia-based Dakar rally. Contesting it with his twin brother, Tim, they share some of the secrets of their 2021 contender
ANDREW COTTON

The Dakar rally has undergone many different incarnations since it first ran in the 1970s, moving around the world until last year, when it settled in the Saudi Arabian desert. Held over 12 days, the rally retains its traditional adventurous spirit and the stages encompass rocks and long sand runs at high speed, but the idea of moving through countries in an orienteering extravaganza are gone for now.

Remaining in just one country has actually helped the organisation with the current Covid restrictions and allowed the rally to go ahead. Drivers will have to quarantine for five days, receive two negative tests and be confined to the bivouac until they are ready to start. In developing their anti-Covid plan with the local authorities, the rally organisation will benefit from experience gained on the Tour de France.

Tom Coronel, more widely known for his circuit racing exploits, has contested the Dakar rally seven times, while his brother, Tim, has competed so many times he has the moniker ‘Legend’ alongside his name on the entry list. In their workshop in Huizen, Holland they have developed their vehicle for the race. Labelled the Beast347 4.0, it is based on a Baja chassis from California-based Jefferies Racing, adapted to Dakar spec by the Coronel team.

The twins will compete in the Open class of the car competition. There are five categories from which to choose, including cars, trucks, bikes, quads and side-by-side buggies. The car section is split into subcategories, including T1 for prototypes (and from which, traditionally, the overall winners emerge), T2 for production-based ATVs, T3 for prototypes powered by motorcycle engines – which was the class contested by the Coronels until 2017 – and Open, which includes American SCORE vehicles and can also include electric or alternative fuels.

Gruelling challenge

The Dakar moved from its temporary home in South America to the Saudi desert in 2020, but this year’s event is a far more ambitious layout even than last year’s. With total daily mileages topping 800km, the rally is a gruelling challenge for both competitor and machine. It starts and finishes in Jeddah, and the route loops around almost the entire region, encompassing Wadi Ad-Dawasir, Riyadh, Buraydah and Sakaka before heading for the coast at Neom, Yanbu and then arriving back in Jeddah city.

The Coronel Dakar Team received its chassis in March 2020 and, despite Covid restricting working conditions, a team of 14 prepared it for the competition. Compared to the Baja events, which are held over one day, the demands on the car are pretty much polar opposite for the Dakar, and the Jefferies chassis has had to be adapted accordingly.

The first job was to take off the Baja-spec rear end as the weight distribution was all wrong for the Dakar and it needed a major re-think in terms of systems layout.

‘We didn’t need the length,’ confirms Tim Coronel, who also takes on the role of lead engineer in the build process. ‘We took five or six metres of tubes out of the car, and moved the spare tyres from the rear to the middle.’

Losing so much weight and length from the rear end of the car meant everything, including the fluids carried over the rear wheels, had to be relocated.

‘In the Baja, they always want it to be planing like a boat, so they want the weight at the back. That’s why they put the tyres and fuel cell there,’ explains Tim. ‘For Dakar, it is more technical, so you want the weight in the middle and as low as possible, so we made a Dakar car from a Baja car.

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