Donaldson Cross Country Championship Harrismith Rally
Ominous signs as Taylor and Murphy take early championship lead
There were ominous signs for other teams harbouring Production Vehicle title hopes when reigning champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy lost no time in going to the top of the leaderboard by winning the RFS 450, the opening round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, in Harrismith.
It is, of course, early days in the series but it was the manner in which Taylor and Murphy, in the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux, cantered home ahead of team-mates Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie with around 10 minutes to spare as the Castrol Toyota squad got their 2014 campaign off to the best possible start.
Taylor and Murphy completed a highly successful weekend by winning the qualifying race to determine grid positions for the main event. But it was by no means a perfect weekend for the champions.
By their own admission they made mistakes in both the qualifying and main races. Wrong slots could have cost the pair, but they recovered quickly and there were woes for other teams.
The fact that Taylor and Murphy could make mistakes and still cruise home will be a source of additional concern for rival teams. Poulter and Howie were perhaps a little fortunate in that the two Atlas Copco Ford Rangers ran into mechanical niggles and other problems that saw stand-in driver Manfred Schroder and Japie Badenhorst finish on the podium, while newcomers Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau will rue a mud hole episode that dropped them way down the standings.
It was a frustrating weekend for the Atlas Copco Ford team although Schroder’s showing, and that of fourth placed Kobus van Tonder and Freddie Kriel in an ex factory Ranger, were the standout performances. Schroder had not raced nationally for a number of seasons, and was having his first outing in one of the hi-tech Dakar Rally spec Rangers.
Bookmakers would have given you good pre race odds that van Tonder and Kriel would not figure in the top five. The local pair produced by far their best performance for a number of seasons, and now have a pretty tough act to follow as the rest of the championship unfolds.
The top five was completed by Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson in the debut outing for the Atlas Copco Nissan Navara. It was a workmanlike performance from the pair, and more of the same can be expected from the pair over the rest of the season.
There were also encouraging Class T debuts for youngsters Jason Venter and Vincent van Allemann (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and brothers Johan and Werner Horn in the Malalane Toyota Hilux. Both cars are ex factory models and both crews handled pretty well a big jump from Class D to Class T.
As was expected the Class T cars – four litres and above with solid rear axles or independent rear suspension - dominated the Class S vehicles with an engine capacity of up to four litres and solid axle rear suspension.
It was, however, a pretty good weekend for the Ruwacon Racing team based in Bloemfontein. Pieter Ruthven, in a return to the Production Vehicle fold, and Hansie Rheeder scored the first win in the new category to take the early championship lead. They were followed home by impressive newcomers Piet Kotze and Salomon Victor (Toyota Hilux) and Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling in the diesel powered ex factory Ruwacon Ford Ranger.
There was also an early championship lead for Leander Pienaar and Carl Swanepoel (Can-Am Maverick) in the new Class G, or Side by Side category, which made its debut at the RFS 450. The pair romped away from Gareth Woolridge and Simon Harrison (Polaris Razor) and trick motorcyclist Brian Capper and Jaco Swart in the Regent Racing Polaris Razor.
After a taste of the unknown with the RFS 450 moving from outside Krugersdorp to Harrismith, competitors face the same predicament in round two of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship. The series also breaks new ground when the Toyota Dealer 450 moves to Mooi River in KwaZulu-Natal on April 4 and 5.