Desert Race: War of attrition on Toyota 1000

The Bankfin Off-Road Championship's only 1 000 kilometre event, the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana from June 21 to 23, looks certain to develop into a war of attrition. The bash through some of Southern Africa's most unforgiving terrain ...

The Bankfin Off-Road Championship's only 1 000 kilometre event, the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana from June 21 to 23, looks certain to develop into a war of attrition.

The bash through some of Southern Africa's most unforgiving terrain is round three of the national series, and will have huge significance for championship hopefuls in the various Production Vehicle and Special Vehicle categories. Those who have made satisfactory starts to the season will want to consolidate, and those who have been left behind at the starting gates will want to make the most of the opportunity to haul themselves back into contention.

The length of the Toyota 1 000 Desert Race and the carnival atmosphere at the overnight halt deep in wildest Africa, have over the years given the event a special place in the national off-road championship. Those same qualities, however, combine to turn the race into a massive test of durability for crews and machinery.

As is to be expected in a championship that has taken on a glamour image over the last two or three seasons, none of the top crews are missing from this year's event. An entry of 77 vehicles is split almost equally between Special Vehicles (40) and Production Vehicles (37), and all of them will be gearing up mentally for a battle that will inevitably claim a high number of casualties.

Among those who have made a more than satisfactory start to the season, are Class A and joint overall Special Vehicle leaders John Weir-Smith and Tony George in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel BMW Jimco. A second and a win so far this season have left the pair brimming with confidence, but there are half a dozen or so crews who could make life uncomfortable for the pair.

Arch rivals Atang Makgekgenene and Alec Salley, in a Jimco now fitted with a Chev V6 motor, head the list of challengers who will have taken aim at Weir-Smith and George. The two crews face the danger of letting their own personal battle dominate the job at hand, and other crews who have outright pace or a more conservative approach could give them trouble.

Eastern Cape pair Greg Harvey and Boy Stone, in the Castrol Queen Motor Spares Jimco, are overdue for a win and their methodical approach could pay dividends and see them grind out what would be a popular victory. Crews like Terence Marsh and Trevor Ahier (Nashua Mobile Racing Jimco) and the father/son combination of Bodo and Gary Bertholdt, in the M&E Glass BAT, on the other hand, are likely to attack from the word go, and some interesting tactical duels could emerge.

There is no guarantee, however, that the winner will come from Class A and a few of the Class S brigade will fancy their chances. Greg Daus will be partnered this time out by Andrew van Zyl in the Nashua Mobile Raceco, and shares the lead in the overall championship with Weir-Smith.

Daus has dominated Class S so far this season, and has combined the sort of speed and reliability that could spell trouble for the Class A frontrunners. Other crews like veteran Richard Carolin and Geoff Minnitt, in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Raceco and John Lambert/Steven Parker, in a Digidoor Chenowth, also come into the equation with a fascinating duel between the two classes a distinct possibility.

It will probably all boil down to a question of pace and reliability. Whoever combines the two best will be in the pound seats.

Where Class B is concerned only the bravest of the brave would hazard predicting a winner in a category where there appears to be a never-ending list of potential winners. Sheer consistency sees Giel Nel (Luk Africa Truggy) again leading a class that has produced the biggest number of entrants, and the East Rand veteran will again be under pressure.

KwaZulu-Natal crews Gavan Gray and Brian Scott (Powerflo Raceco) and Marcus Taylor/Marc de Chalain (Truck Time YSCO), Bes and Deon Bezuidenhout (Chenowth), experienced Henry Kirstein/Renier Jooste (Secoroc Sandmaster), the equally experienced Max and Hein Mohr in the Industrial Hardware WPP and Warren Claasen and Kim Dixon in the Nashua Mobile Racing Radflo will all be lining up to take a shot or two at Nel.

On the Production Vehicle front it is probably safe to say the winners will come from the premier Class T runners. Class T crews have won both events so far this season, but lack of consistency from the "big guns" sees the overall Production Vehicle championship dominated by Class D and E crews.

It is this lack of consistency among the Class T challengers that brings a special flavour to the Toyota 1000. As with the Special Vehicle battle pace and reliability will be the key ingredients, and the battle of the manufacturers has fascinating possibilities.

Former champions Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton, in the Team Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser, won the Barberspan 500 and reigning champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan (Nissan Hardbody) responded by winning the Nissan Sugarbelt 400. An interesting statistic, however, shows that none of the factory entries -- with Hannes Grobler/Richard Leeke in the second Nissan Hardbody and another former set of champions in Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer making up the numbers in the Team Ford Racing Ranger -- have managed to finish both events so far this season.

That places a premium on reliability this time around. Reyneke and Houghton would love to emulate de Villiers and Jordaan by giving Toyota a win on their own event, but Class T is a melting pot of uncertainty.

And, if the factory entries falter, the way will be open for the likes of Cliff Barker and Vic Campher in the Land Rover Finance entry, Cliff Weichelt and Johan Smalberger in the N1 4x4 Ford Ranger and Derrick and Tina de Bruyn in the Inland Racing Nissan. After an unhappy introduction to off-road racing on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 former Touring Car star Anthony Taylor and Charles Wolmarans will be back for more in a Toyota Hilux, but the focus will be on the factory entries and who can see out the distance.

When it comes to dream starts to a season Tosca farmers Piet Haasbroek and Christo Bosch, in the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser, would be top of the class. Two class wins and top five finishes overall see them lead the overall and Class D championships, and despite some dangerous opposition they will be hot favourites for another win.

Among the challengers who will be aiming at putting an end to the Haasbroek/Bosch spree will be the factory Nissan pairings of Duncan Vos/Mike Griffiths and Hein Grobler/Gerhard Prinsloo, Isuzu crew Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr and Henri and Maurice Zermatten in the Playstation Mitsubishi Pajero. Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Land Rover and Jeep are all involved in the Class D shootout, but Haasbroek and Bosch will probably be more nervous of the Nissan factory duo and the Corbett/Mohr combination.

Class E also features an interesting spread of manufacturers with Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Kia all represented. Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie, in the Team Castrol Toyota Condor and reigning class champions Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham, in the Team Ford Racing Ranger, each have a win this season, but will be wary of surprise packages Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in a Toyota Hilux.

Another Toyota crew, Piet Heunis and Coetzee Labuschagne, have the ability to come up with a win, and Jean-Pierre Joubert and Errol Hodgson in the N1 4x4 Kia could pose a threat. Schroder and Peckham, however, showed on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 that they are probably the crew to beat.

Class F has three entries with Paolo Piazza-Musso and Scott Abraham in the rebuilt O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Jeep up against Nissan and Toyota opposition. France Pieterse and Roelof van Heerden will be out in a Nissan and Frank and Dalene de Greef in a Toyota and, once again, the question of reliability crops up.

The Jeep has been downgraded from Class T and, on paper, looks to be the best bet. Piazza-Musso and Abraham have a new power plant at their disposal, and the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam squad will be hoping that reliability problems are a thing of the past.

Any form of motorsport is loaded with ifs and buts when it comes to predicting winners, and for the most part you choose your favourites or pays your money and takes your choice. The Toyota 1000 Desert Race is no different but the nature of the event, the high stakes involved and the current status quo of off-road racing could combine to make this event something special.

-msa-

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Series Other rally
Drivers Tony George , Brian Scott