The final episode of Toyota Times Athletes Now for 2021 aired on December 22, featuring Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body (TLC) ace driver Akira Miura live in the studio. He spoke of his determination to win TLC’s ninth consecutive title in the Dakar Rally starting January 2. Miura also shared thoughts about his race companion, the Land Cruiser 200, and what draws him to tackling such harsh natural environments.
As a Toyota Auto Body employee, Miura also handles news releases for the Public Affairs Department. He made his Dakar Rally debut in 2007 as a co-driver (navigator), helping to win that race and another in 2009. Since making the move to the driver’s seat in 2016, Miura has contributed to TLC’s eight consecutive production class victories with his wins in 2018 and 2021.
The program kicked off with footage of Miura driving the Land Cruiser 200 at the Sanage Adventure Field (Toyota City). Strapped into the passenger seat beside him, host Kyonosuke Morita could be seen bouncing in all directions during the run, shouting with excitement. “How can a car make it through all this!” and “I thought the car was going to break down!”
Regarded as the world’s toughest race, the Dakar Rally was dreamed up by a French adventurer and first staged in 1979 between Paris and Dakar (Senegal). The event moved to South America in 2009 before finding its current home in Saudi Arabia in 2020.
In the 2022 event, competitors will set off from the northern Saudi city of Ha’il on January 2, passing through a mid-point rest day in the capital Riyadh, before arriving at the finish line in Jeddah on January 14. With up to 828km of driving in a single day, participants will cover a total of 8,177km through the 12 stages.
Miura showed off a picture of the Land Cruiser 200 tearing through the desert as he explained that, “part of the excitement comes from scenery you only get to see in the rally. The allure is taking on terrain where even a Land Cruiser feels small,” he said.
The difficulty of desert driving is something President Akio Toyoda experienced firsthand while learning the ropes from Miura. The program showed footage from Akio’s Sahara Desert run in 2018, as part of the 5 Continents Drive Project. Miura, who assisted the president from the passenger seat, recalled freeing their car from the sand using rope and planks he had packed as an impressed Akio commented, “You guys carry everything.”
Miura also showed his victory trophy and the chart that navigators use in place of maps. As a driver, he emphasized the importance of staying calm and trusting in his car and team in the most difficult of situations.
“Despite all the preparations, there are things we can’t foresee. You have to figure out what you can do to overcome challenges, and that sense of accomplishment is unlike anything else. Even though it’s tough, every day is non-stop excitement.”
Miura believes that motorsport contributes to “making ever-better cars” and for the Land Cruiser in particular, the Dakar Rally provides great feedback by replicating the environments where users will actually be driving. With TLC planning to race the Land Cruiser 300 Series starting in 2023, this will be the final Dakar for the Land Cruiser 200. Having made his own debut in 2007, the same year as the Land Cruiser 200, Miura feels this was fate at work.
“As a kid I admired motorsports, and when I joined the company as an employee, the Land Cruiser 200 was the car that fulfilled my dream of taking on the world. That car has been an irreplaceable companion in my life. Driving it for the last time, I really want to make this the absolute best run as a way of expressing my gratitude.”
TLC will field two Land Cruisers in the Dakar Rally’s production car class, supported through the gruelling rally by two mechanics from Fukuoka Toyota, Yuta Nakatake and Naoki Anami.
In the modified vehicle class, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing (TGR) will compete with four Dakar-spec Hilux trucks. In the truck category (under 10-liter class), Hino Team Sugawara will aim for its 13th straight victory.
The program closed with a special video message for the fans from TGR, featuring the Dakar-winning team of Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel, along with drivers of the other three Hilux trucks.