Exclusive interview with Prodrive’s David Richards provides insight on 2022 Dakar challenger.
Prodrive is putting the finishing touches to the first road-going version of its latest Bahraini-backed Dakar Rally car, the BRX Hunter T1+, and intends to have it ready to drive through Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to coincide with the start of the 2022 event.
The first road car, built for Bahrain’s Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, spearheads a batch of 25 road-going T1s that will be produced at Prodrive’s Banbury HQ over the next two years. Exact pricing is still being worked out, but it is understood cars will cost around £1.25 million (AUD$2.36m) apiece.
Prodrive chairman David Richards has previously described the road-going Hunter T1 as “the Ferrari of the desert” and has created the vehicle to be the fastest cross-country production car in the world. An elaborate Prodrive brochure, just issued, features the compelling line: “Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”
The close relationship between the road and rally models is obvious to the eye, although there are dozens of differences. Both use a body designed by former Jaguar design boss Ian Callum, now based close to Prodrive’s Banbury base. The T1 is 4600mm long and 2300mm wide, with an aerodynamically oriented fastback shape and a high wing above the rear window to generate downforce, but at 1850mm tall, the road car stands at least 100mm lower than its rally sibling.
The road car uses the same tubular steel spaceframe chassis as the three team cars competing in this year’s Dakar event. The 2022 T1s are clearly related to the promising 2021 models but much modified and the road car follows the latest specification. They have much larger tyres – 38-inch diameter tyres on a 17-inch wheel – which should help prevent the dozens of punctures that blighted last year’s campaign. There’s room for a spare in a sidepod ahead of each rear wheel.
All models have Prodrive-designed, ultra-long-travel twin-shock coil suspension at the front and rear, plus air jacks built in for rapid tyre changing – an essential in desert running, where assistance simply isn’t available.
Prodrive engineer Mark Paterson, who is in charge of the road car programme, said that although most of the car’s headline specifications mirror those of the rally cars, there are many different details.
The interior has sound deadening wherever possible, the competition seats are replaced by slightly more comfortable designs, the new fascia is configured so the car can be driven by people of varying skills and the massive, 480-litre rear fuel tank can be shrunk to give extra boot space, because “prospective owners are the kind of people who spend weekends driving in the desert”, said Paterson. “They may need a little luggage.”
The T1’s engine is the same dry-sumped 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged Ford V6 used in the competition cars, rebuilt and modified at Prodrive with bespoke engine control systems.
The T1 is a nominally front-engined design, although the position is so close to centralised that its cover protrudes half a metre into the cockpit. The road car output is quoted at 410kW – around 110kW more than FIA regulations allow for the pure rally cars – and torque is about 700Nm. Both engines redline at 6500rpm but the rally car’s shift lights are set at 5500rpm because torque declines above that. The gearbox is a six-speed paddle shifter and the car has permanent four-wheel drive.
Richards said Prodrive already has “three or four” buyers interested in cars and expects more to get in touch when the car makes its debut. Prodrive will deal directly with customers rather than appointing dealers. “The people who want one of these won’t be like ordinary car buyers,” said Richards. “They’ll know where to find us.”
Q&A: David Richards, Prodrive chairman
Why build a road-going Hunter T1+?
“Many people in remote areas, especially the Middle East, do a lot of desert driving for recreation. There’s a big off-road culture. It seemed logical to propose such a car – and then the crown prince [of Bahrain] became interested in being our first owner…”
How different is the road-going car from Sébastien Loeb’s Dakar racer?
“Not very different, really. It’s a bit more comfortable and quieter in the cockpit, and it rides a bit lower. There can be boot space if the owner wants. But it has the same chassis and suspension and very similar tyres. We intend it to be very, very capable in places where there are no roads.”
Why have you chosen that sand colour for the first car?
“That’s the crown prince’s choice and he’s the first customer. He thinks the car should suit its environment, and now we’ve all seen it, we approve. We probably wouldn’t have chosen that, but I’d say it works.”
Why is the road car more powerful than your competition machinery?
“Mainly because it can be. The Dakar regulations place limits on turbo boost, and the road car doesn’t have to have those. Because we build our engines from scratch in Banbury, we know how durable the V6 is, so we’ve just given it a bit more freedom.”
Do you expect to change the T1 gearing for the road?
“It’s possible we might like to make them a shade more relaxed when cruising, but we’re still deciding. We’ll learn a lot from the early cars.”