Hino Team Sugawara confirms Dakar 2023 effort despite parent’s emissions scandal

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Credit: Hino Team Sugawara

In a class typically dominated by Russian (until this year) and other European manufacturers, Hino Motors has been a steady representative for Japan in the Dakar Rally‘s Truck category since 1991. Despite the truck manufacturer being embroiled in a massive emissions scandal, racing arm Hino Team Sugawara intends to compete in the 2023 Rally with Teruhito Sugawara as driver.

Team Sugawara fields a truck modelled after the Hino 600 series. They introduced a hybrid system to the vehicle for the 2022 Rally, and Sugawara consistenly ran in the top twenty before a transmission failure in the penultimate stage relegated him to twenty-second in class.

Sugawara, who also doubles as team director, has raced at Dakar since 1999 with his father Yoshimasa Sugawara. Yoshimasa developed the Hino Dakar operation from its inception and continued to race well into his seventies; by his final start in 2019, he was 77 years old and set the record for the most consecutive Dakar starts with thirty-six from 1986 onwards. The father/son duo enjoyed a runner-up class finish in 2001.

After working as co-driver for his dad, the younger Sugawara became a main driver himself beginning in 2005, scoring his best overall finish to date in said race of sixth (he repeated the finish in 2018). While KAMAZ and IVECO are consistently the top trucks, Sugawara and Hino have been the best performing team among trucks whose engine capacity is under ten litres (10,000 cc).

In March, Hino Motors admitted to falsifying emissions and fuel data in over 643 thousand vehicles, and an August revelation showed this had been occurring since 2003. Perhaps providing another example of Japan’s infamous working environment, Hino attributed the situation to a poor corporate culture that allows for such violations to be concealed from management. The fallout prompted the company to suspend shipments of lightweight trucks while Toyota, who owns a majority stake in Hino, and Isuzu ousted it from the Commercial Japan Partnership Technologies truck consortium.

As the situation continued to spiral, the team remained silent before finally giving a statement a month before the 2023 Rally. It is not uncommon for controversies plaguing auto corporations to expand to their racing divisions such as Volkswagen killing its World Rally Championship programme in the wake of its own emissions scandal, though Sugawara quieted concerns of the same occurring here.

“We would like to express our sincerest apologies for the inconvenience caused by the series of fraudulent incidents at Hino Motors,” said Sugawara. “It was a difficult situation to continue our activities, but we received words of encouragement, support, and cooperation from many people, and we were able to prepare to participate in the next race.

“The Dakar Rally, which is said to be the toughest in the world, will open a new page for us with the power to keep going, the power to never give up, and the power to unite.

“Please look forward to the success of Hino Team Sugawara!”

The 2023 Dakar Rally will begin on 31 December 2022.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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