In one of the fastest Donaldson prologues ever experienced in the Absa South African Off Road Car Championship, Toyota Motorsport filled two of the top three places on the podium at the end of the first day of the penultimate round of the championship, the Human Auto 400, in the Thaba ‘Nchu area of the eastern Free State on Friday.
Fittingly, the top three positions were taken by the top three contenders in the championship, but not in their current order in the points’ table. Third-placed Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin (Castrol Team Toyota Hilux) recorded the fastest time of the day over the 52-kilometre time trial that determines the start order for Saturday’s race in 31 min 58 sec at a high average speed of 90 km/h. Second, just one second behind, was the second-placed Ford Ranger of Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, while championship leaders Duncan Vos and Rob Howie in the second Castrol Toyota were third, a further three seconds in arrears.
This sets up an intriguing scenario for Saturday’s 360-kilometre race, which will be run over two laps of a 179-kilometre route with a compulsory 15-minute service stop at the Black Mountain Hotel near Thaba ‘Nchu in between. Vos and Howie, chasing Vos’s fifth championship and Howie’s first, need to finish ahead of former champions Visser and Badenhorst to claim the title before the final round in Gauteng in November. They are currently 22,5 points ahead of Visser and Badenhorst after deducting their worst scores to date and there are a maximum of 50 points up for grabs in the remaining two rounds. Taylor and Birkin are still in contention, 26 points behind their team-mates and 3,5 behind Visser/Badenhorst.
However, Taylor and Birkin, while looking to score their first win of the season after being the dominant production car combination in Friday’s prologue this season, are also experienced team players and will be doing their best to help their team-mates win the championship. A Toyota 1-2 on Saturday would be the ideal result, with Vos first and Taylor second.
But first they both have to overcome the not inconsiderable challenge of the experienced and wily Visser/Badenhorst combination.
The current points’ standings, after the deduction of each competitor’s worst score to date, are: Vos/Howie 110,5, Visser/Badenhorst 88, Taylor/Birkin 84,5
“It was a very fast and demanding prologue today,” said Toyota Motorsport team principal Glyn Hall. “Anthony could have been even quicker if it had not been for his slowing in the last 10 kilometres when he heard a sound of metal against metal. It turned out that a stone was wedged between the brake caliper and the brake disc, but fortunately no damage was done. Duncan and Rob lost their way briefly in the first 16 kilometres and dropped a few seconds in the process.
“Chris and Japie are the combination standing between us and victory tomorrow. It’s really too close to call and once again it will be a case of luck, good judgment and a reliable car that will triumph in the end.”
Also in a threatening position is the BMW X3 of former champions Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege, who were fourth fastest today and finished 46 seconds behind Visser and Badenhorst.
“There’s a long way to go tomorrow and we’re expecting the route to be even tougher than it was today, although not quite as fast,” said Vos. “It’s important to finish and score as many points as we can. It would be nice to wrap up the championship before the last round, but it’s all about scoring the required number of points. If we have to do it over the full season, then that’s the way it’s going to be
Toyota Acknowledges Its Sponsors, Specialist Official Suppliers and Technical Partners
Toyota enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Castrol, Innovation Group, Imperial Toyota Group, NGK, Ferodo, SKF, Spanjaard, Edgecam and Donaldson.
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