In boxing parlance Team Castrol Toyota scored a points win over Ford Performance in the Production Vehicle category factory battle on the RFS Endurance, the opening round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, in Harrismith on Saturday 28 March 2015.
Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie romped to victory in the Team Castrol Toyota Hilux, and at the finish were more than a comfortable 11 minutes and 51 seconds ahead of the Ford Performance Ford Ranger in the hands of Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable. The podium was completed by reigning South African champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy, in the second works Castrol Toyota Hilux, who started from pole position after winning the qualifying race.
For Poulter it was his first victory in the premier Class T category. His previous success was in an entry level Class E Toyota Hilux at the beginning of a cross country career that has since seen him twice finish the Dakar Rally.
“I made a few mistakes on the first loop, but everything went well on the second lap,” said Poulter. “We never had to get out of the car, and that makes a huge difference when it comes to winning races, and it’s nice to finally get a Class T win.”
Poulter and Howie started to move clear of Woolridge/Huxtable (Ford) and Taylor/Murphy (Toyota) after the compulsory 20 minute service break at the end of the first 251 kilometre lap. The Ford Performance crew, who missed last season with Woolridge recovering from back surgery, were hampered by a misfire that negated mounting a late challenge on Poulter/Howie.
“The misfire was frustrating but second was a good result for us and the team,” said Woolridge. “It was just nice to be back in action.”
Woolridge and Huxtable ran out of fuel on the finish line, but for Taylor/Murphy a litany of problems provided for a tough day at the office. Locked gates, no driver to co-driver communications and being stuck in a mud hole were compounded by a broken drive shaft late in the race.
Woolridge and Huxtable stopped to help pull Taylor/Murphy out the mud, but the tow rope broke and the job was completed by Woolridge’s younger brother Gareth and Boyd Dreyer making their Class T debut in another Ford Ranger. The younger Woolridge and Dreyer soon afterwards also fell by the wayside after hitting a gate post, and Taylor and Murphy were happy to rescue third place.
There was a noisy finish line celebration from the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux team when North West youngsters Jason Venter and Vince van Allemann put the finishing touches to a hard earned fourth place. On the second lap they moved ahead of former SA champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in the second works Ford Ranger, who were hampered throughout by a windscreen washer malfunction – a major drawback in the extreme muddy conditions that characterised the race – and electronic throttle problems.
The Harrismith pair of brother and sister Jacques and Lizelle van Tonder kept the local flag flying with a workmanlike sixth place in the Uni Freight Ford Ranger. They had just over a minute in hand over Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson who had an adventurous day in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara.
The same wheel fell of twice on the first lap and they limped into the designated service point. Loop two then saw them stuck in a mud hole for around 30 minutes before Portuguese team-mates Rómulo Branco and co-driver João Serôdio and Sean Reitz and Gerhard Schutte, in another Regent Racing Nissan Navara, arrived on the scene to lend a helping hand.
The Portuguese pair had an interesting introduction to the Donaldson Cross Country Championship. They failed to finish the qualifying race, and started the day from the back of the field.
With Class S crews, including qualifying race winners Deon Venter and Jaco van Aardt in the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux, dropping out of the running on a regular basis Branco and Serôdio moved up the field and clinched an unlikely victory first time out. Behind them Sean Reitz and Gerhard Schutte were also rewarded for perseverance, and were the last of the classified finishers and second in Class S.
The next event on the Donaldson calendar is the Sugarbelt 450 sprint race in Eston, on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, on May 8 and 9.