TRIUMPH AND HEARTBREAK ON TOYOTA 1000 DESERT RACE The Toyota 1000 Desert Race from June 9 to 11, the only marathon event on the Absa Off Road Championship calendar, again produced a combination of triumph and heartbreak. The event was round ...
TRIUMPH AND HEARTBREAK ON TOYOTA 1000 DESERT RACE
The Toyota 1000 Desert Race from June 9 to 11, the only marathon event on the Absa Off Road Championship calendar, again produced a combination of triumph and heartbreak.
The event was round three of the national series with veterans Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan, in the Proudly South African Nissan Navara, completely dominating the weekend to take the overall win as well as top honours in the Production Vehicle category and in the Super Production Class. The Nissan pair were around 13 minutes ahead of the father and son pair of Nick and Ryan Harper (Dermasun BAT Audi) who took second overall and won the Special Vehicle category and Class A.
For Grobler it was his fourth Desert Race triumph and came 20 years after his first success in the Botswana event in 1986. The win also gave Nissan their fifth successive Production Vehicle victory with Grobler and Jordaan recovering from a shaky start to completely dominate.
After a disappointing prologue the pair started the first racing section in 16th place. At the first designated service point they were second overall, and by the end of day one were eight minutes in the lead.
The final day saw the Nissan pair continue to edge away from Production and Special Vehicle challengers. It was a superb performance and Grobler, something of a 'local' hero in Botswana, just keeps getting better with age.
All the other challengers in the SP Class had races they would like to forget. Second in the SP Class were Rob Gurney and Graeme Stainbank in the factory Ford Racing Ranger -- more than 90 minutes behind the winners -- after fuel starvation problems ruined their challenge.
For their part Gurney/Stainbank were an hour ahead of third placed Bevan Bertholdt and Robin Houghton, in the Castrol Toyota Hilux, who limped to the finish after front differential failure on the final section of the event. Neil Woolridge/Kenny Skjoldhammer, in the second works Ford, and Duncan Vos/Ralph Pitchford, in the second Nissan, were classified fourth and fifth after a string of mechanical gremlins while Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin (Castrol Toyota Hilux) had an adventurous outing.
The pair were penalised 30 minutes at the end of day one for dangerous driving. They then hit a tree early on day two and a broken steering simply added to their woes.
While the SP Class brigade were running into problems two Class D crews came up with magnificent performances. Reigning Class E champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux) and former Class E champions Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Castrol Toyota Hilux) came in second and third overall and first and second in Class D.
Third and fourth in Class D were Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr (Century Property Development Nissan Hardbody) and Cliff and Louis Weichelt (Bosal Toyota Hilux). The first four Class D runners all finished in the top 10 with fifth placed Jurie and Arnold du Plessis (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody) in 14th place overall.
Coetzee Labuschange and Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody), leading the class before the Desert Race, ran into a string of problems as did Arnold du Plessis and Johan Knox in another BB Auto Nissan Hardbody. Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa (Mitsubishi Pajero) were in the same boat.
Reigning Class D drivers champion Manfred Schroder and Ward Huxtable, in the works Ford Ranger were comfortable winners of Class E. They came in around 15 minutes ahead of Toyota Hilux pair Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux who did a good job in their first outing of the season.
Brian Martin and Ockie Fourie, in the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux, rolled out of the event on day one but there were good performances from two other Toyota crews. Brothers Mark and Stuart Moffat (Bosal Toyota Hilux) and Fabio Tafani/Mike Baron (Club Refrigeration Toyota Hilux) were third and fourth with the latter producing their best performance of the season.
Toyota have not had a win on their own event since 1999, but there was consolation for the Japanese manufacturer. A strong showing by privateer crews saw Toyota win the manufacturers award ahead of arch rivals Nissan.
On the Special Vehicle front the Harpers simply wore down the opposition. Their triumph was sealed when the unfortunate Gary Berthold and Henry Kirstein, Atlas Copco BAT, hit a tree on the final leg and were forced to retire.
It was heartbreaking for Bertholdt and Kirstein but brought home the adage that the Desert Race is won and lost on the final section. For all that the Harpers came up with the sort of solid and workmanlike performance one has come to expect from the pair.
Motorcycle legend Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege, in the Motorite BAT, were a solid second in Class A with Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter coming up with a superb performance to take the final podium place in only their second outing in the Wrapsa BAT. Next up was Brandon Harcus, in the singleseater Motorite BAT, who had his work cut out doing both the driving and navigating.
Reigning champions Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse completed the top five in the Nashua Mobile BAT. The pair have a 100 percent finish record this season and sheer consistency gives them a powerful hand in this year's championship.
A variety of mechanical and other problems put a string of other fancied Class A crews out of the running. Nissan Sugarbelt winners Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergman (Motorite BAT) were out of the running after the opening racing section, as were Shameer Variawa and VZ van Zyl (Total Porter) with engine failure.
In one of the closes finishes in the event veteran Giel Nel and Johan Smalberger, in the Bosal Truggy Zarco, won Class B from Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) by just seven minutes. It was a triumphant return to Class B competition for Nel who started the season running in Class A.
Swazi crew John Thompson and Clinton McNamara (Zarco Lite) and former Class B champions Marcus Taylor and Mark de Chalain, in the JRE Ford, were among those who gradually fell by the wayside. In the three events run so far this season, there have now been three different winners in Class B.
In Class S veterans Richard Schilling and Chris Davies made it two wins out of three in the Plastotech Aceco despite completing the event sans power steering. The pair were 11th overall and had around half an hour to spare over arch rivals Archie Rutherford and Craig Doubtfire in the Nashua Mobile Raceco.
A solid performance saw Nic Goslar and Richard Carolin take third in Class S in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco. Schilling and Carolin are both former overall winners of the Desert Race, while Davies is one of a growing band who have completed the grueling event on both two and four wheels.
As a spectacle this year's Desert Race lived up to its reputation as the blue chip event on the off road calendar, and again underlined its reputation as an event where finishing is an achievement in its self. The organisation, by the Four Wheel Drive Club of SA, was of a high standard and the co-operation of the Botswana government a major factor in the success of the weekend.
The support for the race by the people of Botswana also continues to boggle the mind. Race tracks around South Africa would love to see the sort of crowds that turned up at the start and finish of the racing sections, and at the designated service points.