A class win and some other encouraging results saw the Castrol Toyota factory team and privateer crews make a positive start to the season at the Nissan Dealer 400, opening round of the Absa Off Road Championship, in the Western Cape over the weekend.
The class win went to Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux, in a Toyota Hilux, who took Class E via a workmanlike drive that saw them finish ninth overall in the Production Vehicle category. Consistency has always been a forte of Visser, brother of reigning Class D champion Chris Visser, and le Roux and they ground out a result on an event that took a heavy toll on machinery.
Further up the field Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin, in the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux 4.0 made a more than encouraging start with second overall and second in the Super Production Class.
"We hit a fence early on the first loop and wire wrapped around the suspension," Cronje said. "It damaged a brake caliper and produced a puncture, but other than that we had a clean run.
"The vehicle was good and a result like this is an early boost for us and the team."
Not so lucky were Bevan Bertholdt and Robin Houghton in the second factory Castrol Toyota Hilux 4.0 running in Class SP. The pair, winners of the Ford Carnival City 400 last season, got stuck in a water splash. They had to be towed out but, in the process, picked up fencing which wrapped itself around the suspension.
"We were a little conservative in our approach to the splash and paid the price," said Bertholdt. "We managed to cut away most of the fencing but it fractured a brake line and the race was over for us.
"The vehicle was great and we were going well so it was a big disappointment."
There was also a highly encouraging result for Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, the reigning Class D champions, who finished sixth overall in Class SP. The pair, waiting to take delivery of their new Class SP vehicle, was out in the Class D championship winning Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux.
"It was a rough event but we did not have any major problems,? said Visser. "We were happy to pick up Class SP points and are really looking forward to racing the new vehicle."
In Class D the father and son team of Cliff and Louis Weichelt, in the new Bosal Toyota Hilux 3,0 D4D, fought a lone battle on behalf of Toyota and managed to eke out a creditable third in class. The pair had to overcome a string of niggling teething problems, and were happy enough to walk away with a good points haul.
Much the same applied to Brian Martin and Ockie Fourie, in the Castrol Toyota Hilux, in Class E. The pair won a race against time to make it to the start, and then had to endure a tough day at the office.
"We lost power steering 10 kilometres into the race, and that made it tough going," said Martin. "We were happy just to make it to the finish and third place was a bonus.
"Apart from the power steering the vehicle showed a lot of potential, so there is plenty to look forward to over the rest of the season."
There was disappointment for three other Toyota crews running in Class E. Clutch problems forced out George and Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux), while a faulty engine sensor saw Stuart Moffatt and Johan Coetzee (Bosal Toyota Hilux) call it a day.
The most bizarre story of the weekend, however, came from Hein Moolman and Cecil Fincham in the Roost Racing Toyota Hilux. After the Friday prologue the Hilux was parked outside the team hotel and written off, along with a service vehicle, by an errant local motorist.