Poulter & Howie Dominant In Production Vehicle Title Chase

Statistics often don’t paint a clear picture of events but when it comes to the Production Vehicle title chase in this year’s Donaldson Cross Country Championship, the figures amply illustrate the total domination of one team and, in particular, a single crew.  The Castrol Toyota Hilux team went through the season unbeaten in the qualifying events and six races that made up the championship, but their star turn was the Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie combination.  The Castrol Toyota pair wrapped up the overall and premier Class T championships with an event to spare, but it is the numbers that are impressive.

Poulter and Howie won five races outright and picked up a win and a third in the two heats that made up the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana.  On top of that the pair won four of the six qualifying races, and finished second in the other two.  The Castrol Toyota team’s perfect win record through the season was preserved by outgoing champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy.  They picked up two qualifying race wins and won the first heat of the Botswana event.

With those sort of numbers it was not surprising that Poulter/Howie and Taylor/Murphy finished first and second in the overall championship and in Class T for the hi-tech cars above four litres with independent rear suspension.  A long way behind the Castrol Toyota crews, the battle for the final minor championship places involved close contests between a quartet of privateer entries.  A solid sixth on the final event, the Atlas Copco Gold 450 on the West Rand, saw young North West pair Jason Venter and Vince Van Allemann (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) finish third in both championships and claim leading privateer bragging rights. In the overall championship Venter/Van Allemann piped Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) with the Mpumalanga brothers failing to see out the distance at the final race.

Fifth and sixth went to Johan Van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) and rookies Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (NMW Ford Ranger) with just four points the difference between the two crews.  Along with Poulter/Howie the Regent Racing crew were the only other team in the Production Vehicle category with a 100 percent finish record.  As for Woolridge and Dreyer, they had the satisfaction in their debut season of finishing ahead of both the Ford Performance factory cars crewed by Woolridge’s elder brother Lance and Ward Huxtable, and former South African champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst. The two factory crews tied for seventh place, but between them could manage only three podium finishes in what was a hugely disappointing season for the squad.

In contrast to the overall and Class T championships, the title battle in Class S for cars up to four litres with solid axle rear suspension went all the way to the wire.  Reliability problems for the likes of Deon Venter/Jaco Van Aardt (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and sporadic appearances from the likes of 2014 champions Jannie Visser and Joks Le Roux (Toyota Hilux), helped turn the Class S fight into a two horse race.  Going into the final event six points separated Heine Strumpher and Henri Hugo (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and Portuguese pair Rómulo Branco and João Serôdio in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara.

Strumpher and Hugo ran into mechanical problems on the qualifying race, started from the back of the field and could only manage fourth behind Venter/Van Aardt, Branco and Serôdio and Visser/Le Roux.  That saw the Portuguese crew end up two points ahead of Strumpher and Hugo.  The Venter/van Aardt win lifted them into third place in the championship, with Visser/Le Roux moving up to fourth two points ahead of Freddie and Sune Kriel (Uni Freight Ford Ranger) who missed the last three events.

From early on in the season there was never any doubt who was going to win the South African Manufacturers Championship.  Spearheaded by the factory team with solid back-up from the privateers Toyota romped away with their umpteenth championship with Ford and Nissan a long way behind.

Photo credit : Keino & Belinda Snaps Photography