The world's first hybrid rally, a Toyota Prius, has finished the gruelling 5,000 mile, three-week Midnight Sun to Red Sea Rally in a provisional 14th place overall. This secures the Prius’ place in motoring and motorsport history as the first hybrid car to enter and finish an official, FIA sanctioned event.
The route from Northern Sweden to Jordan via eight other countries in Eastern Europe has brought many dramas for the pioneering crew of Brits, Nik Berg (32) and Tim Bampton (33). They suffered a front suspension smashing crash in the Czech Republic, dodgy fuel in Turkey not to mention weather and terrain as varied as 37 degree heat in the desert to lashing rain and rough rocky roads in Romania.
The drama continued right to the end when they got a puncture with several miles to go, but pressed on regardless to complete the last of the 40 special stages that totalled more than 450 miles (720km) on tarmac, gravel and desert.
The route ran from Ostersund in Sweden to Aqaba in Jordan. Across the Baltic, through remote, seldom seen parts of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania and then along the Aegean Coast of Turkey and into the Lawrence of Arabia deserts of Syria and Jordan.
The Prius is the first of a new breed of car, one that uses less petrol and produces much lower emissions, especially around town. Hybrid – it denotes a combination of two power sources – will become more and more common as Toyota and others work to provide a sustainable alternative to the fossil fuel burning engine. Toyota is the leader in hybrid technology and recently celebrated the sale of its 100,000th hybrid vehicle worldwide.
A 71hp 1.5-litre petrol engine and a 44hp electric motor power the Prius. The battery for the electric motor is continuously charged by both the petrol engine and by regenerative braking so the car requires no external charging. Capable of 100mph and 0-62mph in 13.4 seconds, yet producing just 114g/km of CO2, the rally Prius ran in the Group N (showroom) class.
Prius and the technology within it have won Toyota many awards around the world, but competition was never part of the plan for this most eco-friendly of family cars until Nik Berg had the idea to enter one in the Midnight Sun to Red Sea Rally.
"I was looking for something different, a car that would give a unique perspective on the event. Prius was the obvious choice and Toyota were keen to assist," said Nik.
As this was the first ever competition Prius everything had to be designed from scratch including the safety roll cage and the stronger front suspension. The car was finished just days before leaving for Sweden.
Even with two motors it wasn’t the fastest car in the rally, but the aim from the beginning was to exploit the car’s reliability and reach the finish in Jordan.
"This is a world first for this type of vehicle and the conditions were the toughest test yet of this new technology. Just to finish is a victory in itself. We drove the car hard over some of the roughest roads in Europe and it has performed superbly," explained Nik.Published 21 June 2002