Nissan the target on Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race
information supplied by: Cross Country Commission (Media)
01 June 2008
Ford and Toyota will be hoping the law of averages catches up with Nissan in the Production Vehicle category of the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round four of the Absa Off Road Championship, in Botswana from June 13 to 15.
Perennial champions Nissan have won the prestige event six years in a row and Toyota, in particular, would love to chalk up a long overdue victory on their event. They came close last year via Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in a factory Castrol Toyota Hilux, and will be hoping that this year a Toyota crew will do the trick.
Factory support for Cronje and Birkin will come from Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton, a four time winner of the Desert Race, in a second works Castrol Toyota Hilux. For Taylor his second appearance since replacing Bevan Bertholdt in the Castrol Toyota line-up could come as a culture shock – but he is fortunate in being able to call on Houghton’s vast experience.
After scoring their first Super Production Class win on the Eastern Cape 500, the Cronje/Birkin combination will have high hopes of a Botswana win. There is no doubt the Toyota Hilux V6 is competitive, and Toyota will be hoping the dollop of luck always needed to win an event like the Toyota Kalahari Desert Race will come their way.
There is strong support for the two factory crews from the consistent Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Castrol Toyota Hilux) and Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) who were early frontrunners in last year’s event. Both teams are experienced and enjoy Desert Race conditions.
Also out in Toyota Hilux V6 entries will be George and Sharon Barkhuizen, in Ruwacon colours and Jaco Swanepoel/Keith Solomon in the IDM Cement Hilux. Both crews have made a quantum leap from Class E and their primary aim will be simply to make it to the finish.
As ever the Nissan challenge is substantial with three crews all capable of winning. Leading the charge will be reigning drivers champion Duncan Vos, for the second year in a row, will have a stand-in co-driver.
Ralph Pitchford again has overseas commitments and young Louis Weichelt again steps in to the breach in the Sasol Nissan Navara. Last year Richard Leeke replaced Pitchford and landed a record eighth Desert Race win.
Former champion Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr are welding into a solid combination. Their advantage is that there is nothing you can teach Grobler, who first won the event in 1984, about the Toyota Desert Race.
The highly competent Norwegian, Ivar Tollefsen, and Briton Quin Evans complete the Nissan line-up. There is, however, doubt about Evans making the trip to Africa and reigning co-drivers champion Francois Jordaan is standing by.
There is also nothing you can teach veteran Ford crew Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer about the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race. Woolridge has won three times, twice with Skjoldhammer and experience and the solid reliability of the Ford Ranger makes them good bets this year.
Mark Ferguson and Craig West, in the second factory Ford, will be another crew who will be happy to make it to the finish, as will Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa in the Unifreight Ford Ranger. Desert Race veterans Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege, in the Motorite SP, will be looking for their best result of the season and experience is also a trump card for them.
After missing the recent Nissan Sugarbelt 400 the father and son team of Harold and Tiaan Coen will be back in action in the ex Barker Land Rover BMW. A finish will at the top of their agenda.
A late addition to the SP Class ranks is the Feltex Imperial Toyota Hilux to be driven by Mike Tomsett and Brian Haviland who are back in racing after a two year sabbatical. The double cab has been built by Stuart Thompson and Achim Bergmann, with Tomsett and Haviland planning on competing for the rest of the season.
Two wins this season have taken Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) to the top of the Class D championship. This is also their sort of race but there are some tough challengers.
Chris du Plooy junior and Henk van Vuuren (RFS Toyota Hilux) have thrown their hat into the arena, while Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Ryobi Nissan Hardbody) won the class last year. Reigning drivers champion Cliff Weichelt and Jimmy Goch (N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D) will be looking for a return to form, as will Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock (Toyota Hilux) who have had a miserable time of it this season.
Two wins have also given Jannie Visser, brother of Chris, and Joks le Roux (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux) a comfortable lead in Class E. The Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race is meat and drink to Visser and le Roux but they could be troubled by the factory Ford Racing pair of Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro.
Dewald van Breda, now partnered by Pierre Mans in a Toyota Hilux, will be having his first taste of the Desert Race and it will be an eye opener. While Thomas Rundle and Brian Roberts (Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody) will be out to end a disappointing run Deon Venter and Ian Palmer (4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux) will be looking to build on an encouraging Nissan Sugarbelt 400 result.
Experienced Rob Gurney and rookie Paul Gonlag (Toyota Hilux) could also come into the reckoning. It will, however, need a big effort from a crew which has made a late start to the season.
Adding a little spice to the entire scenario is the tightest SA Manufacturers Championship in many seasons. As matters stand only 10 points separate Nissan (137), Toyota (135), and Ford (127) and all three manufacturers will be looking for solid performances in the three classes.