Toyota will go to this year’s Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round four of the Absa Off Road Championship from June 22 to 24, confident that they have the ammunition to finally get the Production Vehicle category monkey off their back.
Toyota have not won their own event since 1999 but there are encouraging signs that suggest honour could be restored this year. Team Castrol Toyota Hilux pair Duncan Vos and Rob Howie go to Botswana with two successive wins under their belts, and have comfortable leads in both the overall and premier Class P championships.
Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin, who came within kilometres of a win in the second Team Castrol Toyota factory entry last year, are third in the championship behind Vos/Howie and Ford Racing pair Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, and have a point to prove. But Toyota will be hoping a one/two triumph on the Toyota Dealer 400 earlier in the season is a further sign of things to come.
Vos/Howie and Taylor/Birkin finished first and second in Mpumalanga to end a 13 year drought by Toyota teams on a Toyota sponsored event. Vos/Howie followed that up with a convincing victory on the Atlas Copco Timbertrack 400 and the two Castrol Toyota teams are the form horses at the moment.
For the rest inconsistency has been a consistent thread in the SP Class. Last year’s Botswana winners, Visser and Badenhorst, have twice in a row had to fight rearguard actions to salvage the points that keep them three ahead of Taylor/Birkin in the overall standings.
If they have a clean run the Ford Racing pair could throw a spanner in the works where the Toyota crews are concerned. This also applies to 2010 winners Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege (RFS BMW X3) who have a major weapon in experience with Grobler, who has a huge following in Botswana, a multiple winner of the only marathon event on the Absa Off Road Championship calendar.
Gary Bertholdt, linking up again with Siegfried Rousseau in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux, will have been encouraged by a good result on the Atlas Copco Timbertrack 400, as will young Pretoria crew Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren in the second RFS BMW X3. Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable, in the second Ford Racing Ranger, will be looking to put recent disappointments behind them with Wolmarransstad crew Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) in the same boat.
Reigning champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (International Truck Toyota Hilux) will also have been encouraged with their first points of the season on the Atlas Copco event and, like most of the North West province crews, will be at home in the conditions. The likes of Malcolm Kock/Johann Burger (Kock and Sons Toyota Hilux), Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) and Deon Venter/Ian Palmer (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) have shown patchy form this season but on a race like this one anything can happen.
The Regent Racing Nissan Navara where Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse will share driving duties with Matthew Carlson in the hot seat, also comes into the equation along with the Barden Tyres Services Navara of Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr who will be making their first appearance of the season. Despite missing the last race Marsh is still fifth in the championship and all the crews will be aware of the affect points and a half awarded for this race can have on their championship challenges.
Another Nissan Navara, in SA Warranties colours, will be in the hands of the experienced Archie Rutherford and Gerhard Schutte, with Willem Vos/Rudi Balzar out in a third BMW X3 in Vossies colours. For Rustenburg based Vos this is almost a home race.
All the more fancied teams will go into the race knowing that the Donaldson Prologue and day one are a waiting game, with the final 100 kilometres on day two invariably producing a sting in the tail – just ask Taylor and Birkin. The leading crews will also be aware that a win for Vos/Howie, who already lead the championship by 21 points, will put them in a position of strength over the rest of the season.
The Class D battle also has an interesting look about it. Cliff Weichelt and Johan Smalberger (N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser) currently lead the title race but there is plenty of tough opposition. Weichelt’s son Louis and Maret Bezuidenhout will be back in the second N1 4x4 Land Cruiser along with Mpumalanga brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Land Cruiser) fresh from a win on the Atlas Copco event.
Sheer consistency has kept reigning champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen (LMC Land Rover) in the championship mix with the pair 12 points behind Weichelt and Smalberger. Also in the mix will be youngsters Jason Venter and Vincent van Alleman (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) who have also had a patchy season so far and are due a good result.
Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens (Elite Furnisher Removals Toyota Hilux) have two wins and a second this season but, despite that, only have a two point lead over KwaZulu-Natal crew Rowan Lamb and Lyle Parker in the ex factory Ford Ranger. The KZN crew took a maiden win on the Atlas Copco Timbertrack but Putter and Claasens will be heavy favourites.
National series newcomers Johan Griffioen and Willem Marais (Force Fuel Toyota Hilux) scored their first point last time out and will be looking to add to their tally. Diederik Hattingh and Buks Cilliers (Transcor Toyota Hilux) have struggled this season but the long grind in Botswana could suit them.
Race headquarters and the designated service park will again be located at Kumakwane on the outskirts on Gaborone. The Donaldson Prologue to determine race grid positions will start at 12:30 on June 22, with day one and day two of the race scheduled to start at 08:30