CRONJE/BIRKIN SECOND ON TOYOTA KALAHARI BOTSWANA 1000 DESERT RACE Victory in the Production Vehicle category continued to elude Toyota on the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round four of the Absa Off Road Championship, in Botswana...
CRONJE/BIRKIN SECOND ON TOYOTA KALAHARI BOTSWANA 1000 DESERT RACE
Victory in the Production Vehicle category continued to elude Toyota on the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round four of the Absa Off Road Championship, in Botswana over the weekend.
But with two vehicles in the top five, winning the manufacturers award and picking up a class win, the event was not without reward for Toyota. And for the second year in a row Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin, in a factory Castrol Toyota Hilux, were in a position to win before having to settle for second place overall and in the Super Production Class.
Cronje and Birkin were joined in the top five by Anthony Taylor, in only his second outing for the works team, and Robin Houghton in the second Castrol Toyota Hilux. The husband and wife team of George and Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) were sixth and Jaco Swanepoel and Keith Solomon a solid seventh in the IDM Cement Toyota Hilux.
For the second year in a row the father and son team of Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) won the Friday prologue to determine start positions. But also for the second successive year they went out early on day one, and were joined on the sidelines on day two by Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in the Castrol Toyota Hilux.
After an unhappy prologue that saw them start 27th overall and 12th in the Production Vehicle category, Cronje and Birkin turned on the magic on day one. They stormed into a 17 second lead over eventual winners Duncan Vos and Louis Weichelt in a Sasol Nissan Navara, with the two crews fighting an intriguing final day battle that swayed backwards and forwards.
The contest was eventually decided 60 kilometres from the finish when Cronje/Birkin lost rear brakes and picked up a puncture. It was at this stage that they decided to settle for second place.
"I was disappointing but we decided to settle for the points," said Cronje. "I seem to run out of luck on this event, but once again we showed that we are highly competitive.
"For the second event in a row we had both factory cars in the points so that is also encouraging where the rest of the season is concerned."
Taylor and Houghton were delighted with their fifth place. Apart from losing power steering late on day one they had a relatively clean run.
"It was tough going but we kept it all together," said Taylor. "This was my first serious attempt at the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race and I am more than happy with fifth place.
"Robin's experience was a great help and the technical crew did a great job on both cars."
Cronje/Birkin, Taylor/Houghton and the Barkhuizen's, who appear to have settled into the SP Class, combined to give Toyota the manufacturers award ahead of Nissan.
There was also an encouraging debut for Mike Thomsett and Brian Haviland in the Feltex Imperial Toyota Hilux. They finished sixth in the Production Vehicle category on the Friday prologue, but were forced into retirement during the race.
Youngsters Chris du Plooy junior and Henk van Vuuren, kept the Toyota flag flying in Class D with a solid third place. It was a drive that saw them maintain their championship challenge.
While Cliff Weichelt and Jimmy Goch (N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D) fell by the wayside, there was a brave effort from Ramon Bezuidenhout and wife Elmaret in another Toyota Hilux. They shrugged off a litany of problems to finish fourth in class and beat the time bar cut off period by the skin of their teeth.
The Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux pair of Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux picked up a win for Toyota in Class E. It was their third win this season and puts them in a strong position in the championship.
Second were Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit who was van Breda's third co-driver in as many events. The Potch Plastics Toyota crew and Visser/le Roux benefited from a 25 minute penalty picked up by Ford Ranger pair Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro for not attending drivers briefing, and for an indiscretion in the convoy to the day two start.
Fourth were Malcolm Kok and Johan de Klerk in a Toyota Hilux while Class E casualties included Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in the 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux and Daniel Swanepoel and James Moss in the IDM Cement Toyota Hilux.
"With a little luck we could have been celebrating a win," said Toyota Motorsport manager William Haddad. "For all that Mark and Chris and Anthony and Robin did a good job.
"There were also encouraging performances from privateers and it was a weekend that gives us a lot of confidence going into the second half of the season."