Darling: Toyota event summary

CLASS WIN FOR TOYOTA ON NISSAN DEALER 400 Toyota scored a category win in Class E on the Nissan Dealer 400, the opening event of the Absa Off Road Championship, in Darling in the Western Cape over the weekend. The win went to the experienced...


Toyota scored a category win in Class E on the Nissan Dealer 400, the opening event of the Absa Off Road Championship, in Darling in the Western Cape over the weekend.

The win went to the experienced Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux in the Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux. Visser and le Roux, who is the reigning Class E co-drivers champion, held off a determined challenge from Nissan crew Thomas Rundle and Brian Roberts. "We had a straightforward run with no problems," said Visser afterwards. "It was a nice way to start the season."

Toyota was also very satisfied with the first outing of their new Castrol Toyota Hilux V6 in the hands of Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin. The pair ran in the top five throughout the event and again demonstrated they are capable of winning races.

There was also an encouraging start to the season for Visser's brother Chris and Japie Badenhorst. They took their Castrol Toyota Hilux to fourth place overall in the Production Vehicle category and in the premier SP Class.

After a troubled Friday prologue there was a danger Visser and Badenhorst would not make it to the start of the race proper. They managed to sort out differential problems and then had a good run despite losing time after stopping to help at an accident scene involving two Special Vehicle cars.

For the Castrol Toyota SP Class runners there was plenty of disappointment -- and more than a hint of better things to come. The Castrol Toyota Hilux factory entries driven by Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin and Bevan Bertholdt and Robin Houghton were both classified as non finishers.

Cronje and Birkin were excluded from the results after "deviating" from the route, with Bertholdt/Houghton sidelined by mechanical problems. Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) were also excluded from the results for straying from the route while George and Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) destroyed their clutch pulling Special Vehicle crew David and Gary White out of thick sand.

A third Toyota crew, reigning Class D drivers champion Cliff Weichelt and new co-driver Jimmy Goch were also excluded, along with fellow Class D competitors (Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Ryobi Nissan), for straying from the route. The exclusions prompted Toyota Motorsport manager William Haddad to voice concerns about a new ruling which calls for exclusion, rather than a 30 minute penalty, for straying from the route.

"Three of the exclusions saw competitors getting lost at exactly the same point on the route," said Haddad. "If exclusion is to be the penalty for straying from the route, there is a heavy onus on event organisers and off road authorities to make certain route schedules and route marking are 100 percent clear.

"We accepted the exclusions over the weekend, but in future there can be no room for error in terms of route marking. Teams spend a great deal of money in off road racing and operate to a high level of professionalism, and this professionalism needs to be matched by organisers."

Weichelt/Gough were joined on the Class D sidelines by Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock in a Toyota Hilux. They suddenly ran out of brakes and a coming together with a tree destroyed the Hilux's radiator.

"It was a weekend of ups and downs with Visser and le Roux the Toyota stars," said Haddad. "At the same time there are encouraging signs that we can build on over the rest of the season.

"Crews like Visser/Badenhorst and Weichelt/Goch overcame prologue problems to go well in the race proper. Bezuidenhout and Lock also went well before their mishap, and the Barkhuizen's showed good promise and sportsmanship.

"The de Bruyn's also showed promising early season form and I think we can expect good results from them in future." Haddad added that the works crews of Cronje/Birkin and Bertholdt/Houghton had again showed they had the pace to match the other factory teams. Cronje/Birkin were out in a new vehicle in Darling with the Toyota Hilux V6 showing enormous potential.

"There is a good spirit among the various teams and that is also encouraging," said Haddad. "There is a long season ahead but there is plenty of reason for optimism."

-credit: toyota

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Japie Badenhorst