Toyota 1000 desert race preview

The Vacation Vans off road team renews its association with Paolo Piazza-Musso for the Toyota 1000 Desert Race on June 8, 9 and 10. Arthur Abraham will share the driving duties in the Vacation Vans Jeep Cherokee with the former national...

The Vacation Vans off road team renews its association with Paolo Piazza-Musso for the Toyota 1000 Desert Race on June 8, 9 and 10. Arthur Abraham will share the driving duties in the Vacation Vans Jeep Cherokee with the former national championship rally driver in round four of the 2001 MSA National Off Road Car Championship. Son Scott Abraham will handle the navigating duties.

Abraham is a close friend of the well-known Piazza-Musso clan, having known patriarch Giovanni since he competed in the national rally championship in the early 1970s, and he has greatly admired the driving abilities of father and sons Paolo and Claudio, a multiple SA karting champion.

"Sarel (van der Merwe) has a Wesbank V8 Challenge commitment at the new Zwartkops Raceway the same weekend as the Toyota 1000 Desert Race," said Abraham senior. "So we decided to get Paolo out of the early retirement he has been enjoying since departing from the national rally championship scene.

Piazza-Musso previously raced the Vacation Vans Jeep when it was still fitted with a straight six cylinder engine and led the 1998 Barberspan 500 until 20 km from the finish and then got lost. He and Stratford Voogt dropped down to third. 3 km from the finish the electronic ignition failed and they eventually limped across the finish line but well out of the top placings.

He finished the Sugarbelt 400 the same year and was well placed in the Toyota 1000 Desert Race when the automatic gearbox again let him down.

He was also a member of the Kreepy Krauly Ford stadium off road team that competed in the Super Series stadium events and was champion in 1997 and the runner-up in 1998. He was last seen in action behind the wheel of the immaculately prepared Ford-Cosworth Escort kit car, competing at the sharp end of the national rally championship in 2000.

"The Vacation Vans Jeep is extremely well suited to desert racing conditions," said Abraham. "The long, sandy straights give us an opportunity to stretch its long, V8-powered legs. It was originally designed and built in the United States for the SCORE Desert Off Road Racing Series in that country.

"Good performances in the first three events of this year's MSA Off Road Car Championship have shown that the Jeep has the potential to beat the fancied factory Super Trucks that compete with us in the Production Vehicle category. We're looking for at least a top three finish - if not better - in the desert," said Abraham.

Van der Merwe led the recent Nissan Sugarbelt 400 after the first 100 km after qualifying the Jeep third fastest in the time trial behind the state-of-the-art works Nissan Hardbody V6 Double Cabs of eventual winner Giniel de Villiers and Mitsubishi Barberspan 500 winner Hannes Grobler.

Van der Merwe lost the initiative when the Jeep bogged down in a water splash and could not get it started after a high-tension lead on the starter broke off. Fuel starvation problems during the second half of the event, while Stratford Voogt was at the wheel, cost the team a crippling two hours and Voogt did very well to nurse the big 2 800 kg Jeep home in sixth place in class T, using only one choke on the carburettor and with virtually no brakes.

The Jeep will be joined in the Toyota 1000 Desert Race by the Vacation Vans Ford Grand National Sport Truck. The space frame single seater Ford is entered in class A of the Special Vehicle category and will be in the capable hands of Stratford Voogt.

The Ford was designed for the Mickey Thompson Stadium Grand Prix Series in the USA and competed in the now defunct South African Super Series, where it enjoyed considerable success in the hands of Van der Merwe.

It has now been modified for long distance racing and is powered by a three-litre four-cylinder single overhead cam fuel-injected engine. This is coupled to a three-speed automatic gearbox, which provides gearing better suited to long distance off road racing.

The Ford went like a rocket ship in the Mitsubishi Barberspan 500 until Voogt was forced to retire after about 100 km of the main event when the truck developed engine problems. He had qualified the two-wheel drive truck an excellent ninth overall in the time trial.

"We've sorted out the Ford's problems and we'll be looking for a podium finish in the Special Vehicle category on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race," said Voogt. "Who knows? The Vacation Vans off road team could be a double winner this time around."

The Vacations Vans off road team receives support from Castrol, Champion Spark Plugs, Chicago Pneumatic, Ferodo, Industrial Hardware and STP.

-MSA-O

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Giniel de Villiers