CASTROL TOYOTA RACING HIGH EXPECTATIONS FOR TOYOTA IN ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP Toyota will go into this year's Absa Off Road Championship, which opens with the Adenco 400 in the Western Cape on March 20 and 21, with high expectations. Toyota...
CASTROL TOYOTA RACING
HIGH EXPECTATIONS FOR TOYOTA IN ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP
Toyota will go into this year's Absa Off Road Championship, which opens with the Adenco 400 in the Western Cape on March 20 and 21, with high expectations. Toyota are the current holders of the prestige South African Manufacturers Championship and back to back titles, along with winning consistently in the premier SP Class and other classes in the Production Vehicle championship, are high on the agenda. On this score the Toyota challenge is a powerful one with two factory Castrol Toyota Hilux entries in the SP Class backed up by a contingent of privateer teams.
With 12 factory and privateer entries in the SP Class the Toyota challenge is numerically the highest in the championship. This is backed up by strong challenges in Class D and Class E.
"We are confident we can win regularly this season in the SP Class and in the other categories," said Toyota Motorsport manager William Haddad. "We have high expectations for the two factory crews in the SP Class, and there is no doubt that we can rely on solid support from the privateer teams who have performed so well for us in the past.
"With a little luck we could have had more than the one SP Class victory we picked up last year, and our target this season is to win on a regular basis."
The Toyota challenge has, however, suffered a late blow with the withdrawal from the team of Mark Cronje. Business commitments have forced Cronje into taking a sabbatical from off road racing, and no replacement has yet been named to join Chris Birkin in one of the two Castrol Toyota Hilux factory vehicles.
Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton now take on 'senior partner' status in the Castrol Toyota Hilux squad. Taylor and Houghton are hugely experienced with consistency the only missing ingredient from a championship winning point of view.
On the privateer front Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Team Barberspan Castrol Toyota Hilux) and Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) came up with a string of solid performances last season. They will be looking for more of the same with both crews potential top five finishers.
With a season in the SP Class behind them Jaco Swanepoel/Keith Solomon (IDM Cement Toyota Hilux), George and Sharon Barkhuizen (AIM Race Data Displays Toyota Hilux) and Chris du Plooy and Ewald van Rensburg (RFS Toyota Hilux) will be looking for improved results.
Christiaan du Plooy/Henk Jansen van Vuuren (RFS Toyota Hilux) make the jump from Class D and theirs will be a season of learning the ropes. The most interesting Toyota entry, however, is that of Gary Bertholdt/Andre Vermeulen who leave the Special Vehicle category to campaign in a new Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux.
Bertholdt is a flyer and the pair scored two Special Vehicle overall wins last season. But they, too, face a learning curve.
"We know we aren't going to go out there and blow everyone away," said Bertholdt. "It is going to be a case of developing the vehicle as we go along, and learning all about the SP Class."
On the Class D front the Toyota challenge will come from a highly experienced crew along with two crews who last season made a big impression in Class E and a newcomer. The experience comes from former Class D driver's champion Cliff Weichelt who will team up with son Louis in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D, and there is little doubt they will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.
Louis took a year off from racing last year but made two 'guest' appearances as a replacement alongside Nissan star Duncan Vos. One of those appearances ended in a win on the Toyota 1 000 Desert Race, and the Weichelt's will be difficult to beat.
Dewald van Breda and du Toit (Northam Toyota), the 2008 Rookies of the Year, will also be out in a three litre D4D model with brothers Diederik and Danie Hattingh (Transcor Toyota Hilux) also moving up from Class E. Both crews were winners last season and should also do well in the higher class.
The Class E championship has an interesting look about it this season with Toyota, Ford and Nissan in the mix. Once again Toyota will have numerical supremacy backed up by experience and plenty of potential.
Reigning champion Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (Team Barberspan Castrol Toyota Hilux) will spearhead the Toyota challenge. The pair has experience and reliability going for them and will be the team to beat.
With van Breda/du Toit and the Hattingh brothers moving up to Class D a strong challenge can be expected from Deon Venter/Ian Palmer (4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux) who were among the 2008 winners. They will be looking to add greater consistency to their repertoire.
The Toyota presence in Class E is further strengthened by the husband and wife team of Ramon and Maret Bezuidenhout (Botes Vervoer Toyota Hilux) who drop down from Class D. The pair joined forces midway through last season and reeled of five points finishes in a row -- the sort of consistency that will make them serious title challengers.
Other newcomers are Pikkie Labuschange/Rikus Erasmus in a second 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux and Heinie Strumpher and Hendrik van der Linden in a Micaren Excel Toyota and at this stage are an unknown quantity. But with strong challenges from Ford and Nissan the Class E battle could be a highlight of the season.