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ABSA 2009: Castrol Toyota Team finish on a high note

The Castrol Toyota factory team finally cracked a win in the Production Car category when Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton won the RFS Magalies 400, the final race in this year’s Absa Off Road Championship, which ended at Tarlton International Raceway. Between them Taylor/Houghton and team-mates Hein Lategan and Chris Birkin have at some stage or other led every event but one this season - without a win to show for it. It finally all fell into place for Taylor and Houghton who battled their way from sixth on the road at the start to win by just short of two minutes.

Second place went to veteran Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr in a Donaldson Nissan Navara. Grobler was having his last outing in a Nissan after a 33 year association with the company, and sneaked ahead of the second Castrol Toyota of Hein Lategan and Chris Birkin within 100 metres of the finish – with the margin between the two teams just two seconds after 400 kilometres of racing. "It was a long time coming but we finally made it," said a delighted Taylor. "It was a win the technical crew deserved after so much work for so little reward this season. Winning is always nice but this victory is particularly sweet."

It was Toyota’s second win of the season with the other victory going to privateers Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux. Provisional scoring also saw Toyota wrap up the prestige South African Manufacturer’s Championship. Five of the six wins scored by the Donaldson Nissan team went to South African champions Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford. The pair ran out of luck, however, and after starting first on the road dropped back via a puncture.

They then ran into the back of Bertholdt/Vermeulen and damaged the radiator. A miserable day for Vos and Pitchford ended on the second of two loops that made up the race, when the Navara’s engine went into “idle mode” and forced the champions to retire.

Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in the RFS Toyota Hilux, led at the designated service point after the first loop, but retired with a broken engine. That let Taylor/Houghton into the lead with Grobler/Mohr sneaking ahead of Lategan/Birkin 100 metres from the finish.

Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and Briton Quin Evans were fourth in another of the Donaldson Nissan Navara entries. The pair overcame a spate of punctures to edge out Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara.

There was drama aplenty in Classes D and E where provisional scoring saw championships decided by a single point. In Class D reigning driver’s champion Cliff Weichelt and Johann Smalberger (N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D cruised to a comfortable win over former Blue Bulls scrum half Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody.

Third place for Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit, in the Northam Toyota Hilux D4D, saw van Breda sneak the driver’s championship by a single point. Du Toit had already won the co-driver championship, and the pair had to bounce back from starting at the back of the field after failing to finish the prologue.

A single point was also the final margin in Class E. Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (RFS Toyota Hilux) took a second successive championship despite blowing an engine and failing to finish.

The win went to Pikke Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus, in the 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux, but it was not enough to give the pair the championship in their first year of national competition. For Labuschagne and Erasmus it was their third win in an impressive debut season.

Second place went to former SA champion Manfred Schroder and Gavan Gray who finished just 33 seconds ahead of Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling in the Ruwacon Ford Ranger. Schroder and Gray were having their first outing of the season, and deputised for regular crew Buppy Rubuluza and Khuliele Vakaliza.

2009/11/20 | 14:12 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Charmaine Fortune

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