Glenharvie, Saturday – Team Castrol Toyota won the battle and the war with a one/two result on the Gold 400, the final round of the Absa Off Road Championship, which ended here today.

Toyota Hilux South Africa

Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin scored their first win of the season but second place was enough for team-mates Duncan Vos and Rob Howie to clinch the Production Vehicle and premier SP Class championships. For Vos it was South African title number five with Howie tasting championship success for the first time – and the pair will go to next year’s Dakar Rally in South America as undisputed South African champions.

Vos and Howie went into the race knowing that even a non finish would give them the Production Vehicle title ahead of former champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in the factory Ford Racing Ranger, who were in a must win situation. The SP Class title, however, was up for grabs in a straight fight between the two Team Castrol Toyota crews and the Ford pair with a disappointing seventh finally blowing Visser and Badenhorst out of contention.

“After three wins in a row, including the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, it looked as though we would wrap everything up earlier in the season,” said Vos. “We stumbled a little in the latter half of the year, but we finally got the job done.

“After the overnight rain the conditions today made for a very difficult race but a one/two result is great for the team.”

Both Taylor/Birkin and Vos/Howie reported cleans runs with two minutes and 21 seconds separating the two crews at the finish. Vos and Howie, in turn, had a two minute and 48 second advantage over Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren in the RFS BMW X3.

Behind the first three only 53 seconds separated the next three cars with Harrismith pair Kobus van Tonder and Freddie Kriel (UniFreight Ford Ranger) leading home last year’s overall and SP Class champions Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux (International Toyota Hilux) and veteran former champions Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege in the second RFS BMW X3. For van Tonder/Kriel it was their best result of the year with the race providing an emotional end to a 36 year career in motorsport for the ever popular Grobler.

At one stage it looked as though Grobler and ter Stege would sign off with a podium finish. That, however, was scuppered by a late puncture.

After back to back wins in the last two events seventh – after a string of punctures –  was a disappointing end to the season for Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst with the top eight completed by Terence Marsh and George Smalberger in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara. The only hiccup for the pair came when they were stuck in a mud hole on loop two and had to be pulled clear by a Special Vehicle crew.

Notable retirements were Donaldson Prologue winners Gary Bertholdt and Ralph Pitchford (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux), Archie Rutherford and cricket legend Jonty Rhodes in the SA Warranties Nissan Navara and Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable in the second Ford Racing Ranger. A steering problem sidelined Bertholdt/Pitchford, mechanical maladies also put paid to Rutherford and Rhodes and Woolridge/Huxtable retired after hitting a rock.

Youngsters Jason Venter and Vincent van Alleman left the best for last with victory in Class D in the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux. The pair were well clear of brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Land Cruiser) and outgoing champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen in the LMC Land Rover.

Another victory put the final touches to a remarkable season for Class E champions Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens in the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux. In tough conditions for a four cylinder vehicle they were the only finishers in Class E and it was win number seven – to go with a second place – for the North West Province crew.