Thaba ‘Nchu, Saturday – Team Castrol Toyota crew Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy wrapped up the national Production Vehicle championship when they finished fourth on the Ford Dealer 400, the penultimate round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, which ended here today.
On a dramatic event with bush fires twice forcing race officials to rapidly alter the route, outgoing national champions Duncan Vos and Rob Howie, in a Team Castrol Toyota Hilux, took the win ahead of Ford Racing crews Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst and Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable. For Vos/Howie it was their first win of the season with the crew reporting a clear run.
Taylor and Murphy, in the second Castrol Toyota factory entry, were fourth, but started the day with a 20 point lead over Visser/Badenhorst and did enough to avoid a tense shoot-out on the final event of the season.
For Taylor adding the cross country championship to a string of South African saloon car titles was something of a milestone. Taylor was still a teenager when he won his first national title – the South African GTi championship and with it the South African drivers championship. Taylor is still the youngest overall SA drivers champion and at the time was the youngest national champion in SA motorsport history.
On Murphy’s part it has been a dream season. He joined the Castrol Toyota factory team at the start of the season, and on the way to winning the championship he and Taylor have scored four wins.
“It has been a great experience for us,” said Taylor. “Dennis and I have worked well together, the car has been great and the back-up from the technical crew has been the best.
“We’ve have also had our moments of good fortune, and skipping saloon car racing this season has helped me focus solely on the Donaldson Cross Country Championship.”
Taylor and Murphy started the race alongside the Atlas Copco Toyota crew of Sarel van Biljon and Philip Herselman, and two seconds ahead of Visser and Badenhorst. A puncture and a brake pipe problem slowed the Castrol Toyota pair on the first of the two 170 kilometre loops that made up the race.
That dropped them to sixth at the halfway mark, but they recovered to finish fourth and regardless of what happens at the final race of the season they cannot be caught in the championship. The pair also almost bumped Woolridge and Huxtable off the podium with the final gap between the cars just two seconds.
For Visser and Badenhorst who have been models of consistency with seven podium finishes this season, it was a case of a bridge too far. For the second year in a row they were looking to take the championship into the final round.
Dakar quad star van Biljon and Herselman produced their best result with a top five finish and were followed home by North West crew Malcolm Kock and Johan Burger in the Kock and Sons Toyota Hilux. Behind them Bloemfontein crew Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) led home a little train of cars.
The Free Staters were only 13 seconds clear of Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) with Hugo de Bruyn and Henri Hugo (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) another 16 seconds adrift. Following them in quick succession were Gary Bertholdt/Siegfried Rousseau (Atlas Copco Nissan Navara), Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux, Terence Marsh/Gerhard Schutte (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) and KwaZulu-Natal crew Rowan Lamb and Lyle Parker in the Force Fuel Ford Ranger.
There was also a tight finish in Class D where brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Land Cruiser) finished only nine seconds clear of championship leaders Jason Venter and Vincent van Allemann in the Trysome Toyota Hilux. For the Horns it was their third win in a row, and puts a little pressure on Venter and van Allemann going into the final round of the series.
With Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens already having clinched back to back Class E championships the pair gave this race a miss. Doug Fear and Kurt de Villiers (Brytons Removals Toyota Hilux) took full advantage to score their second win of the season, with the pair more than 10 minutes ahead of Johan Pretorius and Gesina Dauth in another Toyota Hilux.
The final event of the season is the Atlas Copco 400 in Westonaria on November 22 and 23.