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This is the single-news section of the news "Offroad & Motorsports". To see all news please use the link under the article or navigate with the left main-navigation.

Toyota Fortuner strikes gold in 4x4 Eco-Challenge.

The new South African-built Toyota Fortuner is exceeding all expectations with a gold medal performance in the semi-finals of the 2006 4x4 Eco Challenge which are being contested in the red Kalahari dunes of the Northern Cape.

Two-member teams from 10 African countries are undergoing a rigorous selection process in the challenging dune fields on a farm, near Upington, in preparation for the final event in remote regions of Mozambique that will combine 4x4 overlanding skills with a strong emphasis on nature knowledge and an Earth-friendly attitude.

"The Fortuners have amazed and delighted us all with their all-round prowess in demanding deep-sand conditions. So much so that we had to revise the course to make it tougher," Gerhard Groenewald, creator of the 4x4 Eco Challenge said. "We obviously had high expectations based on the phenomenal performance and reliability of the Toyota Hilux double cabs used during the 2005 event, but the newcomers are especially impressive. "The manoeuvrability and traction, in particular, has won high praise from the contestants, many of whom are owners of rival 4x4 brands," he said.

It is the sixth running of the Goodyear and Toyota-sponsored annual event, which has previously been staged against the backdrop of Namibia’s towering sand dunes, war-ravaged Southern Angola, Zambia’s game-rich Liuwa Plains and the world-renowned Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.

This year the action moves to Mozambique where it takes in wild sandy shores and a vast inland wilderness area dotted with lakes and giant baobab forests that has been seen by few people.

Novel highlights will include a dhow race to a small island where competitors will camp for the night. "The idea is to involve the local fishing community in the adventure, with prizes going to the dhow owners. The decision will be whether to pack enough gear to be really comfy for the night, or to run fast and light and be quicker across the ocean."

Leading the Mozambique convoy will be prominent environmentalists who are excited at the possibility of uncovering missing links in the puzzle of ancient Gondwanaland; the land mass that existed before continents and chunks of land separated and drifted apart.

Scientist Priscilla Swart hopes to establish important ecological links between Mozambique and the vast neighbouring island of Madagascar, with special reference to the baobabs, acacias and aloes characteristic of both regions.

Herpetologist Marius Burger, with his passion for reptiles and amphibians, is hopeful that a new species or two might even be awaiting discovery in the vast 350 square kilometre inland area that the 2006 Eco Challenge will traverse.

"This is really uncharted territory," he said. "Due to the war and general unrest that prevailed until relatively recently the country was avoided by biologists for many years and is ripe for investigation.

"Right now there is no road of any kind leading to one of the inland locations we have selected," he said. "It is really uncharted territory with environmentally sensitive terrain that will draw on the finalists’ skills as earth-friendly drivers."

Gerhard Groenewald believes the pristine region could become an important destination for Eco-tourists seeking a rare and precious wilderness experience.

Contestants in the semi-finals are competing in 10 identical Fortuner 3.0 D-4D models with logistical support from six additional Hilux double cab bakkies powered by similar common rail direct-injection diesel engines.

The semi finals are being staged in the Kalahari during May and June, with the final event between August 24 and September 7.

2006/06/08 I 17:35 CET I Editor:

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