Toyota triumphs gruelling Kalahari
BREAKING KALAHARI DROUGHT: Duncan Vos and Rob Howie charge towards Toyota's first win in the Kalahari 1000 in 13 years.
GABARONE, Botswana – Toyota finally managed to secure its first win the classic Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race since 1999 with a rousing top two finish on Sunday.
Toyota Hilux crews Duncan Vos/Rob Howie and Anthony Taylor/Chris Birkin came home in that order on round four of the Absa Off Road Championship to give Toyota the win in the Botswana classic.
Just 35 seconds separated the two crews at the finish, with Vos/Howie taking their third successive victory to tighten their hold on the Production Vehicle category championship in the Absa series.
A tired but elated Vos after the only marathon event on the South African off road championship calendar: “We are over the moon. A one-two on the toughest race on the calendar was a great team effort.
“This was a typical Desert Race and you had to concentrate every inch of the way.”
The two Castrol Toyota crews dominated from early on Saturday when they went past Donaldson Prologue winners Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege, in the RFS BMW X3, and from that moment on the two Hiluxes were unstoppable.
At the end of the day’s proceedings the gap between the Toyota pair was 11 seconds. A puncture that delayed Taylor/Birkin on the first of Sunday’s two 200-km loops saw the gap stretch to just over three minutes.
With much at stake Vos/Howie took their foot off the gas on the final 200 kilometres but, barring misfortune, were practically assured the win. The final podium position went to the young Pretoria crew of Christiaan du Plooy/Henk Janse van Vuuren (BMW X3) for their best result of the season.
The pair held off a determined challenge from Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst over the last 200 kilometres and after 1000 kilometres of racing the final gap between the BMW and the Ford Racing Ranger was just 13 seconds.
The top five was completed by Hugo de Bruyn/Henri Hugo, in a Toyota Hilux, in what was also their best result of the season.
In Class D, the battle turned into a family affair with Louis Weichelt leading home father Cliff (both in Toyota Land Cruisers) to grab a top 10 finish.
The younger Weichelt, partnered by Maret Bezuidenhout, was around 40 minutes ahead of his father and Johann Smalberger, with reigning Class D champs Jack/Sarel Oosthuizen finishing third.
Class E championship leaders Dirk Putter/Koos Claasens scored their third win in four outings this season in their Toyota Hilux, more than an hour ahead of Diederik Hattingh/Kristo Bosman (Toyota Hilux).
In the Special Vehicle category, former South African champion Evan Hutchison scored a double triumph.
An ecstatic Hutchison said at the Kumakwane finish, near Gabarone: “What can I say? It does not come much better than winning the Desert Race for the first time and winning a free entry into the Dakar Rally.”
The Toyota 1000 Desert Race was one of four races worldwide counting towards the Dakar Challenge with the prize a free entry into the world’s toughest race.
It was, however, touch and go whether or not Hutchison and co-driver Danie Stassen would make it to the finish. “We picked up an alternator problem as we left the designated service park to start the last 200 kilometres,” Hutchison said, “and we made it to the finish on a wing and a prayer.”
The Dakar Challenge drew 23 entries and among them were some of the top names in the South African off road series. A total of 14 cars made it to the finish.
Motorsport South Africa's off-road racing commission president Richard Schilling said: “The Dakar Challenge added a new dimension to the Toyota 1000 Desert Race. That could be seen via the quality of the entry, and in the huge crowds that turned out for what is the biggest annual sporting event in Botswana.
At the finish Hutchison and Stassen had two minutes and 52 seconds in hand over Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren in the BMW X3. Special and production vehicle are normally scored separately in the Absa Off Road Championship, but in the Dakar Challenge raced against each other.
In the Special Vehicle category, the Hutchison and Stassen finally had six minutes and 36 seconds to spare over Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Atlas Copco BAT) while the final podium position went to previous Desert Race winners Quintin Sullwald and his father Kallie.
Proud dad Kallie said: “Third on this race in his (Quintin’s) first year as a driver is no mean feat. Quintin drove like a champion and this will do his confidence a world of good.”
The Sullwalds were just over four minutes ahead of another father and son combination in Nick and Ryan Harper, who came under some intense pressure late in the race from Class P winners Richard Fuller/Dennis Murphy, who finished only 20 seconds back.
Fuller and Murphy were rewarded for a near flawless performance and took of Class P on Saturday when Class P championship leaders Colin Matthews/Alan Smith ran out of fuel.
Matthews and Smith lost more than an hour but a good fight back saw them finish second in Class P.
There were no Class B finishers.