Botswana 1000 preview

76 entries received for Toyota 1000 desert race Seventy-six entries have been received for the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, round of three of the SA Off Road Championship - presented by Bankfin, Absa's specialist vehicle and asset finance...

76 entries received for Toyota 1000 desert race

Seventy-six entries have been received for the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, round of three of the SA Off Road Championship - presented by Bankfin, Absa's specialist vehicle and asset finance division - which takes place in Botswana from June 13-15.

Thirty nine Special Vehicle and thirty-seven Production Vehicle entries make up a quality field with 13 contenders in Class A for unlimited special vehicles, 19 in Class B for 2-litre powered special vehicles, one in Class C, four in Class S for special vehicles fitted with trailing arm front suspensions, eight in Class T for unlimited four-wheel drive Super Trucks, 17 in Class D for 6-cylinder powered production vehicles with limited modifications, nine in Class E for 4-cylinder powered production vehicles with limited modifications and three in Class F for unlimited two-wheel drive Super Trucks.

All the attention will be focussed on the Class T battle where the lone factory entered Team Ford Racing Ranger of Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer and the lone Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser of Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton will take on the all-conquering trio of Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody pick-ups.

There has been no stopping the Nissan juggernaut with the team winning nine of the past ten events overall. Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke equalled the record for five consecutive victories, set in 1986 by Grobler and co-driver Piet Swanepoel, when they romped to victory in the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in KwaZulu Natal recently. Former Production Vehicle champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan last won on the 2002 Toyota Dealer 400 at Sun City and would dearly love to return to the winner's circle by again winning the Toyota 1000 Desert Race. Reigning Production Vehicle champions Duncan Vos and Mike Griffith complete the Proudly South African Nissan line-up and will be looking to improve on their second overall on the recent Nissan Sugarbelt 400.

Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton won the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 1999 and want nothing more that to win this tough event. The pair last won the 2002 Barberspan 500 and have had countless podium finishes but in a sport that is so competitive and with so much honour at stake nothing but victory will suffice for the Castrol Toyota crew.

Former Production Vehicle champion Neil Woolridge has won the Toyota 1000 Desert Race three times, once each in a Nissan Sani, a Mitsubishi Pajero and a Ford Ranger and he and co-driver Ken Skjoldhammer would also like to end their winless streak. They last won the 2001 Carnival City Casino 400 and, like Reyneke and Houghton, have had numerous podium finishes but no sip of the winner's champagne.

With so much at stake the attrition rate could again be high, which would leave the door open for dark horses Scott Abraham and Richard Carolin in the two-wheel drive Atlas Copco/Chicago Pneumatic Jeep to sneak onto the podium. Abraham's mentor Carolin won the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in a Raceco in 1995 and his huge experience and reputation for consistent finishes over the years will come in handy on an event that is well suited to the 5,9 litre V8 powered Jeep.

The Class E brigade has produced some surprises this season. Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin finished third overall on the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2700i and former Class E champions Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham from KwaZulu Natal powered their diesel powered Team Ford Racing Ranger to the class win and third overall on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400.

Cronje is the reigning Rotax Max World Karting Champion and, despite rolling the Castrol Toyota on the last event, has adapted well to off road competition.

Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie in the Castrol Toyota Hilux KZ-TE finished third in Class E on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and their return to form will most certainly be a threat to their Class E rivals.

Jean-Pierre Joubert and Errol Hodgson campaign the N1 4x4 Kia Sportage, which has proved to be nimble and quick but somewhat unreliable and it's only a matter of time before they upset the established order in Class E.

Two Nissan Hardbody pick-ups have been entered with the one crewed by husband and wife Neels and Zelda van der Walt and the other by brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis from Pietersburg and both crews picked up a Class E win each in 2002.

The expected Class D onslaught failed to materialise on the first two events of the season with regular front-runners like Piet Haasbroek and Freddie Scheepers sidelined by front drive train problems on both occasions. Haasbroek and Scheepers farm in the Tosca area near the Botswana border and daily drive on roads similar to those that will be encountered on the event and a podium finish is not out of the question if the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser stays in one piece.

Father and son Johan and Marthinus van der Merwe from Harrismith won Class D in the Chavani Mitsubishi Colt Rodeo in the Western Cape and finished 4th in KwaZulu Natal and have a two point lead in the Class D championship.

Alfie Cox made his debut on four wheels on the Nissan Dealer 400 and was leading Class D in the Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody before the clutch failed 8 kilometres from the finish. Cox and co-driver Hennie ter Stege made up for their disappointment by winning Class D on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400. The Dakar star has won the Toyota 1000 Desert Race three times on a motorcycle and his ability to read the terrain will most certainly give him the edge over many of his rivals.

The four car GBS Nissan team has some experienced campaigners in its line-up in the form of former Class D champions Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo from Klerksdorp, husband and wife JP and Linda Augustin from Hartswater, Coetzee Labuschagne and Johan Gerber and MC Coetzee and Marius Liebenberg and can be expected to mount a strong challenge for class honours.

The two-car Alberante Land Rover team will be represented by Marius van Vuuren and Chris Mare and brothers Mark and Stuart Moffat with both crews capable of pulling of a Class D win.

Botswana businessmen Shumie van Vuuren and Carlos de Abreau make a welcome return to competition in the Chibuku Toyota Land Cruiser and, like Haasbroek and Scheepers, have an intimate knowledge of local road conditions, which should place them in good stead.

Robin Tilney and Hugh Beswick won the event, then known as the Total Trans-Kalahari Road Race, 25 years ago in a Toyota Land Cruiser and to commemorate this achievement Tilney and son Michael have entered a Toyota Land Cruiser in Class D. The likelihood of overall victory is rather slim but the pair cannot be ruled out of a possible class win.

There are three contenders in Class F with any one of them a possible class winner. Newcomers Andre Botha and Beans Heydenrych will mount their first challenge on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Chevrolet. They can expect pressure from the experienced Jaap Zeeman and Johannes Barwise in the Ford and Wynand Britz and Roy Clark in the quick SVM.

A major battle is looming in Class A in the Special Vehicle category where ego rather than manufacturer reputation is at stake. The locally designed and built BAT finally broke the Chenowth and Jimco stranglehold of the past two seasons when Gerald Mundell and Bill Bond won the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in the Prolong BAT.

Five BAT vehicles have been entered with Mundell and Bond, Brandon Harcus and Gary Bertholdt and Danie Marais and Andrew Utterson in Nissan V6 powered versions, Mark Corbett in an Audi V8 powered Century Property Developments entry with Bevan Bertholdt and production car racing star Regard Roets also relying on Audi V8 power.

Only four Jimco's have entered and based on past finishing records these American built space framed vehicles should have the edge over the competition. Botswana born Atang Makgekgenene and Mike Stangl won the Nissan Dealer 400 and share the Class A championship lead with Mundell and Bond. Makgekgenene would dearly love to pull off a win in front of an enthusiastic home crowd and become the first Motswana to win the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, which has become the biggest spectator event in Botswana.

John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt won two events in 2002 but had a dismal start to the 2003 season when engine failure on the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco put them out of the running in the first two events. They have a lot of ground to make up in the championship and a win in Botswana will get their campaign back on stream.

Sam Moolla (52) has the distinction of being one of the oldest drivers in the field and he and co-driver Zaheer Bodhanya will be in action in the Cornbake Foods Jimco. Moolla's nephew Shameer Variawa will do pit duty while he awaits the arrival of his new Porter-built space frame from the USA.

The Nashua Mobile Racing Team will field two cars, one a Mitsubishi 3,5 litre supercharged Jimco for Terence Marsh and Trevor Ahier and the other a Mitsubishi 3,5 litre twin turbocharged Chenowth for 2002 Toyota 1000 Desert Race winner and 2003 Nissan Sugarbelt 400 runner-up Greg Daus and co-driver Archie Rutherford. Marsh and Ahier have yet to win a race but Daus and Rutherford have tasted victory before and pose the biggest threat to their Class A rivals.

John Moore and Fred Werner seem to be getting to grips with the Connix Shell Chenowth in which Franz Czepek Sr. and Jr. won the 2001 Toyota 1000 Desert Race and the 2001 Special Vehicle Championship and could spring a surprise on the rest of the fancied field.

Jakkie Joubert and Jacques Cross have dusted off the four-wheel drive Volvo turbo-powered JoJo Tanks VW Beetle and can be relied upon to run at the head of the field provided the vehicle stays in one piece.

The Class B fraternity has been giving the Class A brigade a run for its money of late with 2 litre powered space frames finishing on the podium twice this season. Former Class B champion Giel Nel won the class and finished second overall in the Luk Africa Truggy on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and reigning Class B champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain won the class and finished second in the Rollerbak Racing JRE on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400. Nel leads the Special Vehicle driver's championship by four points from Taylor while de Chalain leads the co-driver's championship.

Former Production Vehicle driver Andrew Birkin who moved to Class B this season, surprised everyone by finishing second and third in class on the first two events of the year respectively in the Wolf-Peter Pfumfei built Wingfoot. Four Pfumfei-built vehicles have been entered for the event with Pfumfei, a former Group N Saloon Car Champion, also entered in one of three Industrial Hardware WPP's.

Clint Gibson in the Praesidium BAT represents BAT in Class B.

Father and son Rob and Gareth Wark will share the drive in the single-seater O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Mighty Mag, which is similar to the vehicle in which former Formula Gti driver Marius Beaurain won the event in 1996. Wark senior won the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in a Superpave Raceco in 1994 so is well acquainted with the conditions.

Four Racecos have been entered in Class S with three of them crewed by Botswana teams. Mohammed Noor and Mohamed Moultsen, Zain Bhamjee and Mohammed Jhummun and Zeyn Noble and Richard Hope from Botswana will be out to upstage South African visitors and Class S championship leaders Nic Goslar and Glen Steyn in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco.

The Toyota 1000 Desert Race gets underway on Friday, June 13 with a 44km Prologue to determine starting positions for the main event, which starts at 08h00 the following day. Crews will complete 500km on Saturday, June 14, overnight at Mantshwabisi and complete the 500km run back to Gaborone on Sunday, June 15.

-msa-

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Series Other rally
Drivers Giniel de Villiers , Alfie Cox , John Moore , Mark Corbett , Richard Hope , Duncan Vos