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ABSA South African Championship 2007 Special-Newssection

This is the single-news section of the special of the ABSA South African Offroad Championship series 2007. To see all news please use the link under the article or navigate with the left main-navigation.

ABSA 2007: Toyota aim to end Toyota 1000 Desert Race drought.

Toyota will be aiming to end an eight year drought on this year’s Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race from June 15 to 17. Toyota’s last Production Vehicle category win on the Blue Riband event of the South African Absa Off Road Championship came in 1999 via Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton in a Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser. Since then victory has gone to Mitsubishi Pajero, Ford and Nissan with the factory Nissan team this year looking for its sixth victory in a row.

The Botswana outing is the fourth round of the Absa Off Road Championship and represents the halfway mark in the series. So far this season all three wins have gone to factory Nissan Navara entries with reigning champions Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan winning twice, with Duncan Vos/Ralph Pitchford taking the recent Sun City 400.

But while Nissan have dominated the season in terms of wins, there are indications that an exciting duel in the desert is on the cards in the Super Production Class. Grobler/Jordaan and Vos/Pitchford face a tough test from another factory Nissan Navara in the hands of Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and Briton Quin Evans, as well as the Navara of local crew Mark Corbett and Rudy Balzer in the Century Property Development entry.

And both Toyota and Ford will be confident they can end the Nissan run of wins. Toyota will be represented by two works Castrol Toyota Hilux V6 crews with support from two privateer teams in Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) and Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux), while Ford will be represented by two Ford Racing Ranger factory entries and a two privateer entries.

Toyota factory pair Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin lie third overall in the overall championship, and after a good outing on the Sun City 400 will fancy their chances in the new Castrol Toyota Hilux. Bevan Bertholdt and Houghton, who will be looking for his fifth Toyota Desert Race win, will also be confident after recent outings have shown the Toyota V6s can compete on a level footing with the opposition.

The Ford crews will feel the same way. Former Toyota 1000 Desert Race winners Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer were second on the Sun City 400, and will have solid support from Brandon Harcus/Juan Mohr in a second factory entry, and reigning Class E champions Manfred Schroder and Ward Huxtable in the Barloworld/Absolute Ford Ranger.

A new addition to the Ford stable will be Kobus van Tonder/Riaan Guelpa who moves from Class E into the SP Class. The pair have taken over the Ford Ranger in which Woolridge/Skjoldhammer won last years SP Class championship and with debut the Unifreight Ford Ranger in Botswana. With the premier SP Class now loaded with potential winners, the ingredients are there for a memorable race. Grobler and Jordaan completely dominated last year’s event, but it looks unlikely that they will be allowed to do so again this year.

Nissan have also dominated Class D this season and will be looking to see the trend continue. Only one point separates three Nissan drivers - Jurie du Plessis/Andre du Plessis (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody), Arnold du Plessis/Johan Knox (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody) and Coetzee Labuscagne (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) - at the top of the championship and that opens the way for a terrific scrap.

Also part of the scrap will be Henri and Maurice Zermatten in the Ryobi Nissan who had a troubled Sun City 400 with gearbox maladies. They will be looking to put an end to a troubled season and have the pedigree to do just that. Harold and Tiaan Coen (Land Rover) have performed consistently this season.

The pair picked up a solid third place at Sun City in what is their first full season of Off Road racing. This will, however, be their first Desert Race and it will be an eye opener for another of the father and son combinations in off road racing.

But the biggest threat to the Nissan runners is likely to come from Cliff and Louis Weichelt in the Bosal Toyota Hilux D4D. The Weichelt’s have run into teething problems with the new vehicle, but are highly experienced and a clean run in Botswana could see them upset the Nissan applecart. Surprise Nissan Hluhluwe winners Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock add to the Toyota challenge. A steep learning curve faces them on their first Desert Race.

The ingredients are also there for a terrific fight in Class E. Here five points separate four crews with Jack Peckham/Lucio Santoro (Ford Racing Ranger) holding off Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux), Brian Martin/Ockie Fourie (Castrol Toyota Hilux) and George and Sharon Barkhuizen in the Ruwacon Toyota Hilux.

Visser/le Roux (2) and the Barkhuizen’s have scored the wins this season, but consistency has kept Peckham and Santoro at the top of the points table. The Ford pair will be hard pressed to keep at bay the Toyota hordes, who will be reinforced by the likes of Mark and Stuart Moffat in the Bosal Toyota Hilux, and some interesting tussles are certain to develop. In recent times Class E crews have come up with top five finishes on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race. It could happen again this year.

With a high quality SP Class entry and all the prestige that goes with the race, this year’s Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race could turn into a classic. And, if a little luck runs their way, the Toyota cup could overflow.

The Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race gets underway with a 50 kilometre prologue, to determine grid positions for the race proper, from 13h00 on June 15 with the start and finish in close proximity to race headquarters at Game City. The race proper will start at 08h00 on Friday 16 with a designated service point at Lentsweletau.

Competitors will follow a circular route back to the start and finish at Game City, with day one survivors setting out at 07h30 on June 17 to tackle the final leg of the race with the first cars expected at Game City at around 14h00.

2007/06/12 | 17:44 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Charmaine Fortune

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