The iron grip the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA factory team has on the Production Vehicle category showed no sign of slacking when Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie led home team-mates Anthony Taylor/Dennis Murphy on the RFS Endurance Race, opening round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, in Vryburg today. Reigning champions Poulter and Howie finished three minutes and 17 seconds clear of former champions Taylor and Murphy to take the overall and FIA Class honours. Toyota went through last season unbeaten, with the new FIA Class allowing teams to run cars to FIA Group T1 specifications that apply to the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup and the Dakar Rally. Poulter says: ‘It was a near perfect weekend for us. It was a very fast route but we did not pick up any problems, and it was a good start to the season for the whole team.’
The race was run over two laps of 245 kilometres, and behind the two Toyota Hilux big guns there was a terrific result for young privateers Jason Venter and Vincent Van Allemann in the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux. The pair has worked their way through the Production Vehicle ranks, and the final place on the podium also gave them overall honours in Class T where cars must now run with solid axle rear suspension and commercially available tyres. The young North West crew were followed home by the consistent Johan Van Staden and Mike Lawrenson (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara), with former champion Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable completing the top five in the Neil Woolridge Motorsport/Ford Performance Ranger.
Both crews profited from the demise of Pretoria crew Christiaan Du Plooy and Henk Janse Van Vuuren, in the RFS Amarok, who started the day in third place after a strong showing in the qualifying race. Behind the Class T cars Brazilian crew Cristian Baumgart and Beco Andreotti (NWM/Rally X Ford Ranger) again produced a solid performance. The pair started and finished the day in sixth overall and did enough to make sure of third place in the FIA Class.
??The Brazilians were followed home by two more Class T cars with another steady performance lifting Hennie de Klerk and Adriaan Roets into seventh place in the Treasury One BMW X3. De Klerk and Roets were just over a minute clear of Mpumalanga brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) who had a good day in moving from 15th at the start to eighth.
Ninth place went to a second Brazilian crew in Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea in another NWM/Rally X Ford Ranger who lost a little ground during the course of the day. Both the Ford Rangers were built in Pietermaritzburg by Neil Woolridge Motorsport, with the two Brazilian crews taking advantage of the introduction of the FIA Class.
It was also a good day for Luke Botha and Andre Vermeulen, in another of the Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navaras. After a disappointing qualifying race they worked their way into the top 10 finishing ahead of the likes of Malcolm Kock/Johan Burger (Kock and Sons Toyota Hilux), Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (NMW/Ford Performance Ranger) and Gary Bertholdt and former national rally champion Pierre Arries in the new Atlas Copco VW Amarok.
Apart from du Plooy and Janse van Vuuren the other big losers on the day were Terence Marsh and TV personality Marius Roberts (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) and Kimberley based newcomers Otto Graven and Bobby Brewis in a Graven Motorsport Toyota Hilux. Marsh/Roberts were handily placed when they hit a rock and rearranged the Navara’s front suspension while Graven/Brewis, who started the day leading Class S for cars under four litres, also fell by the wayside.
The next event on the Donaldson calendar is a new innovation, a one day Super Sprint Race, on 7 May in Vredefort in the Free State.