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ABSA 2009: First Toyota 1000 Desert Race Winners entered as a Joke.

The first winners of the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, which will again be run in Botswana (Africa) from June 19 to 21 this year, entered the race as a joke. Piet Lambrecht was in Gaborone in 1975 organising a hunting permit when he saw a poster advertising what was then the Total Trans-Kalahari race. Lambrecht entered a Ford F250 and talked Giel Potgieter into navigating for him.

Because the F250 had a wide bench seat Hans de Lange joined the pair to pour drinks and operate the eight track stereo system. Much to their surprise, and that of the organisers, the trio romped to an historic victory.

Lambrecht won again the following year in a new F250 - this time with Tony Hawken navigating and Doep du Plessis pouring drinks and operating the tape deck. Hawken was there to "talk to the English speaking journalists" and again the trio surprised everyone by winning. Such fairytale stories are a far cry from the hugely professional Toyota 1000 Desert Race that is now a blue chip event on the Absa Off Road Championship calendar.

Toyota took over sponsorship of the event in 1981 and with eight wins spread over 20 years veteran South African co-driver Richard Leeke leads the Toyota 1000 Desert Race roll of honour.

Leeke’s first win on the classic race came in 1984 when he won with the legendary Paddy Driver in a Mitsubishi Pajero. Subsequent wins came alongside Kassie Coetzee (2) and Philip Malan in Toyota Hilux entries, and with Hannes Grobler (3) in Nissan Harbody’s. Leeke’s eighth win came in 2007 as a replacement co-driver. With Ralph Pitchford on overseas duty Leeke stepped into the breach and partnered Duncan Vos, in a Sasol Nissan Navara, to chalk up Nissan’s sixth straight win in Botswana.

Not far behind Leeke in terms of wins is former South African champion Apie Reyneke. Multiple SA champion Reyneke won the Desert Race six times with his first win with Lucas Dreyer in a Nissan Safari in 1987. Reyneke won again with Dreyer, in a Toyota Land Cruiser, in 1994 and then scored four victories - all for Toyota - with Robin Houghton. Toyota stalwart Houghton, who made his off road debut in 1995, and former SA champion Hannes Grobler each have four wins.

Houghton and Grobler, long serving stalwarts for Toyota and Nissan, are still competing. Grobler’s first victory came in 1986 with former Motorsport SA Off Road Racing Commision president Piet Swanepoel, but he had to wait until 2002 for his next win with Leeke.

The father and son combination of Franz Czepek senior and junior also have four wins to their credit. The pair won three times in a row between 1997 and 1999 and again in 2001.

Buks Carolin and Neil Woolridge, who is also still competing, each have three victories. Woolridge won for the first time in 1996 with Paul Vermaak in a Nissan Sani, and has twice won with Kenny Skjoldhammer for Ford.

Reigning SA champion Vos will this year be looking to join Carolin and Woolridge. Vos won in 2007 with Leeke and last year with Louis Weichelt who was also standing in for Pitchford who was again on overseas duty.

On what is regarded in off-road circles as the Comrades Marathon of off road racing, the Special Vehicle category has only three times been won by a singleseater. Des Tarboton (1982) and Rob Wark (1994) were joined in 1996 by Marius Beaurain when he won in a Mighty Mag.

But perhaps the most famous victory of all goes back to 1985 when SA rally champions Geoff Mortimer and Spotti Woodhead decided to enter an Audi Quattro. Much like Lambrecht and company in the early days of the race Mortimer and Woodhead, much to everyone’s surprise, pulverised the opposition.

2009/06/09 | 16:08 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Charmaine Fortune

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