Oil or gas?
Created in 2010, the alternative energy challenge enables testing in competitive conditions of possible promising fuel sources for the future. This year, cooking oil recovered from restaurants is being used to power the Toyota Auto Body vehicles, whilst natural gas is driving the Chilean Auto Gasco team.
Out of the three cars enrolled, (Nos. 351, 354 and 401) all three are holding their own in the standings. On this edition of the Dakar, the Chilean Auto Gasco team has proved this year that the leap of faith made last year to use gas is viable. With 27th place in the general standings in Antofagasta for Jorge Latrach, as well as 52nd and 58th for Fernando Leon and Ignacio Casale respectively, the Chilean cars are handling the race well and Fernando Leon is delighted. "The car is excellent. There's perhaps a difference in power between the pressurised gas we use and petrol, but everything is working as it should". The gas is contained in an 80-kg tank onboard the vehicles. "It's a mixed fuel system and when we are running on petrol power, all we have to do to switch to gas is press on a button. In 25 seconds, it's done," explains Fernando Leon.The team manager, Jose Miguel Mello, clearly acknowledges the importance of the Dakar in this ambitious venture. "Good results in such a difficult event are the proof that this fuel source can play a role in day-to-day life. There are already 10 to 12 million vehicles running on this type of fuel in the world. For us, the idea is to develop its use in taxis and vans in Chile and Argentina, based on the performances of our three cars".In the Toyota Auto Body team, in which Jun MItsuhashi, 14th in the general standings in Antofagasta, is shining, the ambition seems less grand, but the formula appears to be a winner too. "We have collected used cooking oil from people but also major institutional restaurants, in particular school canteens in Japan. For this Dakar, we have 6,000 litres of oil for our two cars. With a special additive, to stabilise the fuel, this oil is the only fuel source that our cars use. It replaces diesel without the need for any mechanical adjustments and without changing the level of our consumption," explains team manager Okuchi Hiroyaki who admits he does not know what Toyota will do with the results of this experiment. Nonetheless, Hiroyaki is in favour of alternative fuel initiatives on the Dakar: "It's an initiative launched by A.S.O. and I think it's good to show that other ways are possible. The advantages of the one we have chosen are twofold: it is fun and educational because it was mostly children who answered the appeal for collection of the oil, and they follow the race too; it's also environmentally-friendly because, unlike bio-ethanol, it doesn't require the use of considerable amounts of arable land which could be use for food crops". With Jun Mitsuhasi (No. 336) who is in the Top 15 and Masahiro Terada (No. 340), in 38th at the end of the 7th stage, the Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body Team hopes to win the Challenge. On the Dakar, with either oil or gas, the competition is in full swing.