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ABSA 2009: Cronje withdraws from South African Championship.

Castrol Toyota factory driver Mark Cronje is to take a sabbatical from this year’s South African Absa Off Road Championship which opens with the Adenco 400, in the Western Cape, on March 20 and 21. Cronje said his decision was based purely on business reasons, and would not affect his commitment to the Castrol Toyota factory team competing in this year’s Sasol South African Rally Championship. The recently married Cronje has a kitchen construction business and said he needed to concentrate more of his time in this direction.

"This has been one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make," said Cronje. "I love off road racing and have an association with Toyota that dates back to the early 90s. But I have to look to my future and need to devote more time and energy towards my business. We are going through a tough economic cycle at the moment, and I just cannot afford the time demands that testing and off road racing make on my business commitments."

Cronje added he was fortunate in that Toyota understood his position. He has been associated with Toyota since he was a teenager, and said he was looking forward to producing good results in the national rally series. "Now that I have decided to take time off from off road racing, I can focus on other matters," Cronje said. "Toyota has been good to me over the years, and hopefully I can pay them back with some good performances in the rally championship."

Cronje and co-driver Chris Birkin are former Class E champions who in recent seasons have competed in the premier SP Class. The pair won the Eastern Cape 400 last year, and were expected to be among the frontrunners in this season’s championship. Toyota motorsport manager William Haddad said Cronje’s decision was a major blow to the Castrol Toyota squad. At this stage no decision has been taken as to who will replace Cronje.

"Chris Birkin will stay with the team, but we are still looking at various options when it comes to a replacement for Mark," Haddad said. "The loss of Cronje is a blow because apart from his ability behind the wheel, he made a major contribution from a technical point of view."

2009/04/02 | 17:14 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Charmaine Fortune

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