THE world's most experienced truck rally team is chasing a record seventh successive class victory in the 2016 Dakar Rally, which started in Buenos Aires on January 2.
The two-truck Hino Team Sugawara entry in the Under 10-litre class marks 26 years since Hino became the first Japanese truck manufacturer to enter the rally in 1991.
The 15-day odyssey will take car, motorcycle and truck competitors some 9000km through Argentina and Bolivia, before returning to Argentina for the finish in Rosario on January 16.
The Hino Team Sugawara 4x4 trucks are loosely based on the medium-duty Hino 500 Series.
Hino has spent the last three years developing a new racing truck powered by the turbocharged and intercooled high-pressure direct-injection A09C engine, with displacement one litre larger than that of the previous engine, to help achieve high standings in the overall Trucks category.
Since the 2015 Dakar Rally, the Hino entries have received engine and suspension upgrades, including a new exhaust system.
Vehicle weight has been reduced by 300kg to 7300kg and Car 1 has been given a facelift, using the same exterior design as the new Hino 500 Series truck launched in Indonesia and Thailand this year.
Key specifications of the two 2016 Dakar Rally Hino trucks include the 8,866cm3 direct-injection turbocharged and intercooled engine matched to a six-speed direct-drive gearbox with secondary transmission, two-speed transfer and part-time four-wheel drive.
The suspension consists of tapered leaf springs and coil-over twin dampers for each wheel.
Wheels are forged aluminium with Michelin tyres and a four-wheel independent tyre-inflation control system.
The trucks have been extensively tested at the Hamura Test Course and competed at Rally Mongolia and China Grand Rally in preparation for Dakar 2016.
The team line-up consists of father and son drivers Yoshimasa and Teruhito Sugawara, with navigators Mitsugu Takahashi and Hiroyuki Sugiura, and a carefully selected team of Hino dealer mechanics and support personnel.
Team director Yoshimasa Sugawara, aged 71, has a record 32 Dakar Rally entries to his credit, beginning on motorcycles, then in cars and from 1992 in trucks.
He has had six second-place finishes in the trucks category and won seven championships in the Under 10-litre Class. His 32 consecutive Dakar entries and 20 finishes were recognised in the 2014 Guinness World Records.
Speaking at the team's official farewell from Japan, Hino Motors president Yasuhiko Ichihashi said the company intended to continue racing in the event.
"Our participation in the Dakar Rally is very meaningful, not only in terms of improving our technological capabilities in the areas of vehicle production and services, but also in the sense that it gives all of us an opportunity to grow as individuals," Mr Ichihashi said.
Teruhito Sugawara, driver of Car 2, said a change in terrain for the 2016 event should not detract from the team's chances.
"Although there will be no desert segments, where we typically extended our lead against our rivals, we may yet have an advantage in the upcoming rally. We hope to not only win our seventh straight class championship, but also finish high in the overall rankings."
Team leader Yoshimasa Sugawara hinted that he is nowhere near retirement from the iconic event.
"We've completely redesigned the cabs, so the crew will also be taking on this race with a renewed sense of commitment. Seeing how we've come this far, I feel like I can keep going for another 20 years."
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.