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Toyota Gazoo Racing has revealed its all-new Hilux-based challenger for the 2017 Dakar Rally, and it’s a radical departure.

Where the previous iteration of the machine was front-engined and four-wheel-drive, the new Hilux Evo is mid-engined and rear-wheel-drive.

The switch has been made to take advantage of the greater suspension travel, bigger wheels, and lower weight RWD ‘buggies’ are allowed. The new Hilux weighs around 1300 kilograms (2866 pounds), where the old 4x4 car tipped the scales at 1915 kg (4222 lbs).

Toyota is following Peugeot’s lead in going down the buggy route for its 2008 DKR. The French squad decided on RWD believing the rule breaks would give it the best shot at breaking the four-year run of domination by the mighty 4x4 X-Raid Minis. Which are a pretty much perfect expression of the current 4WD rules.

The Hilux Evo uses the same naturally-aspirated, 5.0-liter V8 motor as the old car, breathing through a 38 millimeter (1.5 inch) restrictor. As much as possible of the suspension has been carried over, too.

Glynn Hall, Team Principle of the South Africa-based team, said: "Essentially, this is our take on what a two-wheel-drive Dakar challenger should be. We’ve taken all the testing and real-world experience we gained with the four-wheel-drive Toyota Hilux over the past five years, and repackaged it in the lighter, faster Toyota Hilux Evo.”

One-time Production WRC champion, two-time WRC2 champion, two-time Cross-Country World Cup champion, eight-time Middle East Rally champion, and two-time Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah joins the driver line-up for the 2017 Dakar Rally. Leeroy Poulter and 2009 Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers retain their seats.

In de Villiers hands, the old 4x4 Hilux took four podium finishes and a fourth place in its five-year career. It was always one of those cars that was ‘there or thereabouts’; fast enough to pick up the pieces, but not really in a position to win. We will find out if the new car can better Peugeot and Mini when the 2017 Dakar gets under way in Paraguay on January 2.

Gallery: 2017 Toyota Hilux Evo rally car

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