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Desert Race glory escapes Toyota

2010-09-27 09:32

TOYOTA 100 DESERT RACE PODIUM: Winners Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege flanked by the Toyota Hiluxes of Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, and Duncan Vos and Robert Howie.

Gabarone –  A stunning performance from veterans Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege has confined Toyota to having to wait for another year if they are to win the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race.

Toyota has not won its own race, the only marathon event on the SA Off-Road championship calendar, since 1999 and for the second year in a row finished with four cars in the top five in the Production Vehicle category – and missed out on first prize.

Grobler’s legions of fans in Botswana went into ecstasies when he and ter Stege brought the diesel powered RFS BMW home with more than nine minutes to spare over championship leaders Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in the RFS Toyota Hilux.

At the start of today’s racing section Toyota must have fancied their chances of ending the win drought, and any bookmaker would have given enticing odds against a BMW win. The two factory Castrol Toyota Hilux entries of Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton and Duncan Vos and Rob Howie led Visser and Badenhorst, and matters looked to be under control for the race sponsors.

Grobler and ter Stege were fourth, but after more than seven hours of racing only around three minutes separated the four cars. There was a little added insurance for Toyota with George Barkhuizen and David van Wyck (AIM Toyota Hilux) lying in a handy fifth place.

But after an intriguing chase in sweltering conditions and a total race distance of 964km , Grobler and ter Stege finally finished nine minutes ahead of championship leaders Visser and Badenhorst. Vos, who was looking for a fourth successive win with all his previous successes coming with Nissan, and Howie were a further eight minutes adrift.

The ebullient Grobler first won this race way back in 1986 and a policeman, charged with the difficult job of crowd control at the finish, quipped that today would be a public holiday in Botswana. It was Grobler’s fifth Desert Race win and by far his most dramatic.

“I can’t believe it,” said an emotional Grobler at the finish. “We always felt the BMW had potential, but to win a race like this so early in its development is phenomenal. This is always a tough race but the car was great and Hennie did a wonderful job of not getting us lost.”

TOYOTA'S TEARS: Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege's victory saw Toyota miss out on another win in the desert race bearing its name.

All the various race equations were thrown into disarray within 30 kilometres of the restart at Kumakwane, 25 kilometres west of Gaborone. Taylor and Houghton, who shared Toyota’s last win on this event with Apie Reyneke, went out with a broken gearbox and midway through the first of the two loops that made up the final day Grobler/ter Stege had moved into second and were chasing Vos and Howie.

Midway through the final loop Grobler/ter Stege were ahead of Vos/Howe by less than 10 seconds, and it was game on. But the sting in tail that characterises this event struck again and when Vos and Howie ran into a steering problem 10 kilometres from the finish, Visser and Badenhorst sneaked through to consolidate their championship lead.

There was a little extra consolation for Toyota with Barkhuizen and van Wyck edging out the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux of Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen to complete the top five. A victory in Class D also helped sweeten bitter disappointment.

With all the other Class D runners suffering weekends to forget Deon Venter and Ian Palmer, in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux, cruised home to an impressive sixth overall. It was only the Toyota’s second competitive outing and lifts Venter/Palmer into championship contention.

A little history was also made in Class E where teenager Lance Woolridge, in his first Desert Race, and Ward Huxtable won Class E in the Team Ford Ranger. Woolridge’s father Neil is a former winner of the Desert Race and his son’s performance was ample compensation for the former SA champion.

Woolridge senior and Kenny Skjoldhammer dropped out of the race on Saturday in the factory Ford Ranger running in the SP Class. A proud father was full of smiles with young Woolridge and Huxtable tightening their hold on the Class E championship.


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