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ABSA 2011: "Pressure cooker" atmosphere in Production Class in Botswana.





Pressure will be the name of the game in the Production Vehicle category at this year’s Toyota 1000 Desert Race, round four of the South African Absa Off Road Championship, in Botswana from June 23 to 26.

The event celebrates a 30 year association with Botswana, brings up the halfway mark in this year’s Absa series and most of the pressure will be firmly on the two factory Team Castrol Toyota Hilux entries.

The association between Toyota and the race is one of the longest running sponsorships in South African motorsport, but Toyota has not won their own event since 1999 and a hint of desperation is likely to creep into proceedings.

It is a pressure cooker situation for Toyota teams and particularly for Duncan Vos/Rob Howie and Anthony Taylor/Chris Birkin in the two factory entries. There is, however, a measure of confidence in the Toyota camp after Vos/Howie and Taylor/Birkin scored a convincing one/two on the recent Atlas Copco 400 in KwaZulu-Natal.

Teething problems on the impressive Team Castrol Toyota Hilux double cabs appear to have been sorted out, and there is no doubt the two cars are the ones to beat. However, the cynics in off road circles are likely to suggest that if Toyota don’t win the race this year, they probably never will!

In the premier SP Class the two factory crews are again backed up by a powerful numerical presence from Toyota privateers. Gary Bertholdt/Andre Vermeulen (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) and the father and son pair of Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn, in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux, will fancy their chances, while Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux (International Toyota Hilux), Malcolm Kock/Johann Burger (Kock and Sons Toyota Hilux) and Rustenburg based Willem and Dana Vos (Vossies Toyota Hilux) will be looking to staying power rather than outright pace for success.

Free State pair Pieter Ruthven and Rudi Britz also return to action in the Ruwacon Toyota Hilux. The major Toyota money, however, will be on the factory crews with former SA champion Vos in search of a fourth Desert Race win.

The attention inevitably focussed on Toyota crews is a little unfair on the Nissan teams – Thomas Rundle/Juan Mohr (Barden Tyre Services Nissan Navara) and Mike Whitehouse/Matthew Carlson (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) - currently leading the championship. Only a couple of points separate the two crews and they are also under a fair bit of pressure.

Nissan back-up comes in the form of Terence Marsh and George Smalberger in a second Regent Racing Nissan Navara with consistency a keyword for the Regent Racing team. For all the Nissan crews making it to the finish is the priority.

The two Team Ford Ranger TDCi entries of reigning champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst and Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable are in much the same boat. Visser and Badenhorst have not had much luck this season, but Botswana would be a good place to turn that around and the Ford has winning potential.

And then there is Botswana favourite Hannes Grobler who will be looking for back to back wins with Hennie ter Stege in the diesel RFS BMW X3. The pair rained on the Toyota parade last year and with Grobler, who scored the first of his six victories in 1986, anything can happen.

A second RFS BMW, a petrol version in the hands of Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren, could surprise but Botswana enthusiasts will have their money on Grobler/ter Stege. The SP Class entry will be rounded out by locals Ausman Sadiq and Cassim Dada, in a Nissan Hardbody, who will want to improve on a disappointing outing last year.

Pressure will not be restricted the SP Class runners. There will be a fair bit of nervous tension in Class D where brothers Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen, in a Land Rover, have opened up a comfortable lead over reigning champions Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux.

Two retirements in a row have hit Venter/Palmer while the Oosthuizen’s have a 100 percent finish record. It is a classic championship situation of pace versus reliability.

A win last time out for Louis Weichelt and Francis Boersma in the N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser also puts them in the frame and they will be joined by Weichelt’s farther Cliff and Johann Smalberger in another N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser with the pair having their first outing of the season.

Down in Class E the Transcor Toyota Hilux pair of Diederik Hattingh and Kristo Bosman come off a win on the Atlas Copco 400 to put pressure on leaders Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens in another Toyota Hilux. Stern opposition will also come from Piet Kotze and Salomon Victor also in the mix in a Toyota Hilux.

Race headquarters as well as the start/finish and designated service park will again be at Kumakwane, 25 kilometres north-west of Gaborone. The Donaldson Prologue to determine grid positions will start at 12:00 on June 24, and both legs of the race on June 25 and June 26 will start at 08:00.

The Toyota 1000 Desert Race is now run in conjunction with "The Mantshwabisi" motorcycle and quad race on June 23 and 24 with the new marathon event run over 750km. The race is a non championship event but draws riders from all over Southern Africa.

2011/06/20 | 15:01 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/FORTUNE












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