Eston, Saturday – Honour was preserved when a Team Castrol Toyota crew won the Toyota Dealer Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship which ended here today, with a Ford Racing team retaining their lead in the Production Vehicle and Class SP championships.
Both factory teams can lay claim to the KwaZulu-Natal outing as a home race with Team Castrol pair Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy edging out the Ford Racing Ranger combination of Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst. There were smiles from Team Castrol Toyota supporters – and sighs of relief – when Taylor and Murphy broke the ice to give the squad its first win of the season.
The Taylor/Murphy victory prevented Ford Racing from notching up a hat-trick of wins this season. But after an enthralling race Ford Racing will have been happy with the second place that keeps former champions Visser and Badenhorst at the top of the overall and class championships.
“We had a cat and mouse dice with the Ford throughout the race,” said Taylor, “but in the end it was touch and go. We had an issue with the car and they closed right up on us.”
After an enthralling duel between the Castrol Toyota Hilux and the Ford Racing Ranger the gap after 400 kilometres of racing was just 39 seconds. For the Toyota camp a good weekend was rounded out with a third place for reigning South African champions Duncan Vos and Rob Howie – although the pair somewhat modified the front of the Hilux after running into the back of Special Vehicle category winners Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen at a road crossing.
The scrap between Taylor/Murphy and Visser/Badenhorst was reminiscent of the battle the Ford crew fought out with Vos and Howie on the Human Auto 400 in the Free State last season. On that occasion it was the Ford crew who held on by the skin of their teeth.
Two North West crews filled the top five places with Malcolm Kock and Johan Burger (Kock and Sons Toyota Hilux) coming home ahead of former SA champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux in another Toyota Hilux. It completed a little family cameo with the Visser brothers and Kock their cousin.
Fourth place also lifted privateers Kock and Burger, in unofficial scoring, into third place on their own in the Production Vehicle and Class SP title races. With 37 points the pair trail Visser Badenhorst (63) and Taylor/Murphy (48) and are one point clear of Vos/Howie.
Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson were again the pick of the Regent Racing bunch with an adventurous sixth place in a Nissan Navara. They were around four minutes adrift of Visser/le Roux, but were comfortably ahead of the impressive Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger who are finding their feet in the ex Hannes Grobler/Hennie Ter Stege BMW X3 now running in LA Sport colours.
Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson survived a roll in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux to finish eighth while team-mates Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rossouw were classified among the non finishers. Van Staden and Lawrenson held off Free State pair Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling in the Ruwacon Ford Ranger, with brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Land Cruiser) taking their first Class D win of the season with a top 10 finish.
After two Class D wins in a row Jason Venter and Vincent van Allemann were also casualties in the Trysome Toyota Hilux with former champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen (LMC Land Rover) again demonstrating their penchant for consistency. They also survived a roll to be the last of the classified finishers – and played Good Samaritan to a number of competitors – but after a second in class remain title contenders.
There was an upset in Class E where reigning champions Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) suffered their first non finish in 16 events. Fuel pump issues saw them time barred – by just six seconds – and Douglas Fear and Kurt de Villiers (Brytons Removals Toyota Hilux) took a maiden national win.
The Donaldson Cross Country Championship now heads for Botswana for the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race from June 21 to 23. With the only marathon event on the calendar carrying points and a half it could play a major role in the final outcome of the championship.