Not too long ago, Toyota Motor Sales received a call from Akio Nishimura, chief engineer for the Toyota 4Runner, wondering how hard it would be to get one of their new Fifth Generation 2010 4Runners ready for the Baja 1000, one of the most grueling races in the world, and a hard-core endurance test for driver and vehicle alike. There were only two challenges: First, the 4Runner he had in mind had just been through the paces on the Rubicon and a few things had been dented and scratched in the process (no major damage). The Rubicon drive was supposed to be the big durability test for the 4Runner and it passed with flying colors. There was another challenge, though, and this one was in many ways much more significant: the Baja 1000 was only a short time away and the 4Runner would require extensive modification! But the motorsports guys have worked under pressure before, so they went to work on a plan while waiting for the sport/utility to arrive.

When the 4Runner did its Rubicon run, it had not yet been unveiled at the Texas State Fair. Because of that, any 4Runners had to travel in covered trailers from point A to B. It was trucked from the trail to Toyota’s proving grounds in Arizona, then to the motorsports facility in California.

By the time the guys at the shop got the Toyota 4Runner, they had six weeks to get the truck built in time for the test runs before Baja. Six weeks to turn a bone-stock sport/utility into a vehicle ready for the Stock Mini class. On the up side, engine and transmission would remain stock; all they had to do was everything else. More good news…Toyota’s legendary Ivan “Ironman” Stewart agreed to be one of the four drivers.

To begin the transformation, they had to figure out how to get the required equipment into the truck while keeping the truck as stock as possible. They gutted the interior, removing any unnecessary items and installing racing seats. They also had to fabricate and install a full roll cage and transmission cooler, add a 38-gallon fuel cell (and remove the stock tank), and redesign the interior to not only be race-ready, but to also include everything the driver and co-driver would need while on the course. As you would expect, the suspension was modified: the truck was fitted with Bilstein BlackHawk race shocks, one at each corner, and Eibach coilovers in front and Old Man Emu springs in the rear. The shocks, which provide longer travel than the OE items, had to be relocated, but the guys kept the geometry nearly the same as stock. Adding General Grabber tires on custom wheels, plus Hella lights and a custom paint job, the 4Runner was on its way to being ready for race day.

Right on schedule, the Toyota 4Runner arrived outside of Barstow, ready for testing. This was the first opportunity for the race team, which consists of four drivers and three co-drivers, to drive the vehicle. This part of California would allow them to take it off-road on similar terrain to what they would experience at Baja, at speed. As each group did loops in the vehicle, they’d return and give input to the mechanics and engineers about how the vehicle was performing. While shocks were examined and the suspension adjusted, the team went over the map for the 1000 and discussed out how everyone would communicate during the race. After a solid day of desert-running, everyone was happy with the way the 4Runner performed, and would finish any other preparations back at the motorsports garage. Now they have to wait for the race to begin.

It all starts at the end of this week—visit trucktrend.com, where we will give you updates on how the Toyota 4Runner is doing in the Baja 1000.

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