Castrol Team Toyota’s Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin were provisional winners of the Production Vehicle category of the 4×4 Mega World 400 prologue at Carnival City on Gauteng’s East Rand this afternoon.
The 4×4 Mega World 400 is the sixth round of the eight-event Absa Off Road Car Championship and finishes on Saturday with a 360-km race divided into two loops of 180 km, centred on Carnival City near Brakpan. Friday’s prologue determines the start order for Saturday’s race, which starts at 08.30 from Carnival City
The factory pair completed the 71-km Donaldson prologue in their Castrol and Innovation Group-sponsored Toyota Hilux in a time of 38 minutes, 16 seconds ahead of nearest rivals Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege (BMW X3) and 19 seconds clear of third-placed Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr (Nissan Navara).
Castrol Toyota team-mates and current championship leaders Duncan Vos and Rob Howie brought the second factory Toyota home in 10th place after losing time when they had to stop to change a flat rear wheel.
Highest placed of the 13 privateer Toyotas in the field was the Toyota Hilux of Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen in fourth place, 27 seconds behind the leaders and six seconds ahead of defending champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Ford Ranger).
Problems with the route markers on some sections – they appeared to be the victims of souvenir hunters – resulted in several competitors having difficulty finding the right tracks. Conditions were dry and dusty mixed with wet sections caused by the high water table in the area. They suited the Special Vehicles which compete together with the Production Vehicles, but in their own championship.
“We’re happy to be first production vehicle on the road tomorrow,” said Taylor. He and Birkin are currently sixth in the championship, 15.5 points behind their team-mates, and are seeking their first win of the season after narrowly missing out in the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana in June.
“We’ve got four specials ahead of us at tomorrow’s start and as long as their dust doesn’t give us problems, we’ll be concentrating on staying ahead of the production vehicles behind us.”
Vos and Howie will start on the back foot in the defence of their championship lead. “We had a clean run apart from the flat tyre and in a short race like the prologue, there’s no opportunity to make up the time lost,” said the former champion. “We’ll be starting 22nd on the road tomorrow, behind nine production vehicles and 12 specials. This is a lot of vehicles to catch and pass, but we’re going to have to put ourselves in a strong position by the halfway service stop at Carnival City so that we can push for a top-three result in the second half of the race.”