Gaborone: Series day one summary

ENTHRALLING PRODUCTION VEHICLE BATTLE ON TOYOTA 1000 DESERT RACE Gaborone, Saturday - The opening day of the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round four of the Absa Off Road Championship, which started here today produced an...

ENTHRALLING PRODUCTION VEHICLE BATTLE ON TOYOTA 1000 DESERT RACE

Gaborone, Saturday - The opening day of the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round four of the Absa Off Road Championship, which started here today produced an enthralling battle in the Production Vehicle category.

When the dust had settled, and there was plenty of it, provisional results at the overnight stop in Hatsalatladi saw the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux crew of Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in a slender 17 second lead over reigning South African champion Duncan Vos and Louis Weichelt in a Sasol Nissan Navara. It was a tremendous drive by Cronje and Birkin who started 12 in the Production Vehicle category.

"We had a great run but I was a little surprised to find we were leading," said Cronje. "It was a tough day in a tough race and tomorrow is probably going to be even tougher."

Apart from a slight overheating problem towards the end of the punishing first day, Vos and Weichelt, standing in for Ralph Pitchford who has an overseas commitment, also reported a trouble free run. Just 90 seconds behind the Nissan crew were two-time winners Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in the factory Ford Racing Ranger, with the veteran pair looking ominous.

"It was a very hard day and you could not afford to relax for one second," said Vos. "It is going to be the same tomorrow and it is just so easy to make a mistake.

Behind the leaders Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Castrol Toyota Hilux), former SA Special Vehicle champions Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege (Motorite Ford) and circuit racing star Anthony Taylor in the second Castrol Toyota Hilux, were locked in a tremendous battle. Just on three minutes separated the three crews and, as with the leading trio, anything can happen on the gruelling 500 kilometres that will make up the final day.

Not yet out of the picture was multiple winner Hannes Grobler, partnered by Juan Mohr in a second factory Sasol Nissan Navara. In a long career Grobler, something of a national hero in Botswana, has come from behind on more than one occasion.

The big losers on the day were Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in the Micaren Toyota Hilux. For the second year in a row the father and son pair set the fastest prologue time -- and for the second time in a row dropped out of the race before the first designated service point.

A close battle had also developed in Class D where brothers Henri and Maurice Zermatten, in the Ryobi Nissan Hardbody, held a four minute lead over championship leaders Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody. Four minutes on the Desert Race is nothing and the two crews face a stern battle on day two.

Nearly 10 minutes behind the two Nissans were Chris du Plooy junior and Henk van Tonder in the RFS Racing Toyota Hilux. They made steady progress but lacked the pace of the two Nissan crews.

A good battle was also shaping up in Class E where only three minutes separated Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro, in the factory Ford Racing Ranger, and the Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux of Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux. Both teams are highly experienced and after a cat and mouse day one will be at each others throats.

Not far behind the lead crews were rookies Dewald van Breda and Pierre Mans in the Potch Plastics Toyota Hilux. Although short on experience van Breda and Mans are poised to take advantage of any slips by the more experienced teams.

The final leg of the race will start in Hatsalatladi at 08h00 tomorrow. The first cars are expected back at the finish at Game City in Gaborone at around 15h30.

SPECIAL VEHICLE DRAMA ON TOYOTA 1 000 DESERT RACE

Gaborone, Saturday -- Veterans Nardus Alberts and Geoff Minnitt survived a major scare to lead the Special Vehicle category at the end of day one of the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round four of the Absa Off Road Championship, which started here today.

Alberts and Geoff Minnitt, in the Wrapsa BAT, pulverised the field to finish just over five minutes ahead of former South African champion Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau, in the Total Porter. Third in provisional results in the Atlas Copco BAT were 2006 winner Nick Harper with Andrew Chalupsky sitting alongside him instead of Harper's son Ryan.

"When you don't get out of the car along the route you know you have had a good day," said Alberts seconds after the finish. An hour or two later their day got a whole lot worse when the Wrapsa crew were excluded from the race, for a breach of rules and regulations, by clerk of the course Skean Drummond.

The Wrapsa pair appealed against the decision and were reinstated by the stewards of the meeting. It was a reprieve for Alberts and Minnitt who hardly put a wheel wrong all day.

Variawa, who became a father for the second time on Thursday, and Rousseau had a good run but were under pressure from Harper and Chalupsky. At the overnight stop at Hatsalatladi only 23 seconds separated the two crews with Chalupsky suffering for most of the day from nausea.

A minute behind Haper/Chalupsky in fourth place were Colin Mathews and Alan Smith in the Century Racing BAT. They had a little breathing space over last year's winners, Karl-Heinz and Quintin Sullwald, in a Sullwald Racing BAT, in a car having its first outing.

Early high profile casualties included reigning South African champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann, in a Motorite BAT, and recent Nissan Sugarbelt 400 winners Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen in the Atlas Copco Porter. Hutchison and Bergmann went out early today with a broken driveshaft, while Bertholdt/Vermeulen were sidelined for the weekend with suspension damage suffered during Friday's prologue to determine grid positions.

The two Regent Racing BAT crews, Mike Whitehouse/Mathew Carlson and Terence Marsh/Pieter Groenewald, were sixth and seventh with the Whitehouse car suffering overheating problems. Not far behind them were Class P leaders David and Gary White who had a clear run in the Ruwacon BAT.

Cape crew Bez Bezuidenhout and Johann de Bruyn, in the Adenco BAT, were the Class B leaders ahead of Ruwacon BAT crew Louw de Bruin and Rudi Britz. Only 47 seconds separated the two crews setting up a tense final day confrontation.

It was the Free State versus KwaZulu-Natal Class P where brothers David and Gary White were around six minutes ahead of the Zarco Lite driven by Don Thompson and Don Blakey. Thompson and Blakey started the day by having to scrounge brake parts from the Sullwald teams but on a race like this the KZN pair will not be too concerned about a six minute gap.

The final leg of the race will start in Hatsalatladi at 08h00 tomorrow. The first cars are expected back at the finish at Game City in Gaborone at around 15h30.

-credit: absa

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Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst