A maiden overall win for Castrol Team Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter on the recent RFS Endurance has given him and co-driver Rob Howie the early Production Vehicle lead in the Donaldson Cross Country Championship. The RFS Endurance was the opening round of the Donaldson series with Poulter and Howie, who is a former South African champion, score a comfortable win ahead of the Ford Performance Ford Ranger pair of Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable. For the Ford crew it was a successful return to action after missing last season while Woolridge recovered from back surgery.
Third place went to reigning Production Vehicle and Class T champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy in the second of the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux entries. Taylor and Murphy are chasing a hat-trick of titles, and overcame a series of mishaps to finish on the podium. With new points allocations in operation this season Poulter and Howie have an early seven point lead over Woolridge and Huxtable, and a 12 point lead over Taylor and Murphy. The Donaldson series has this season been reduced from eight to six events and, unlike in previous seasons were crews dropped one result, all scores will count.
The top five in the overall and Class T championships are completed by Jason Venter and Vince Van Allemann (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and former South African champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in the second of the factory Ford Rangers. Venter and Van Allemann won the Dakar Challenge, run in conjunction with the RFS Endurance, to win a free entry into next year’s Dakar Rally in South America. A tough route and wet conditions on the RFS Endurance led to a high rate of attrition in both the Premier Class T and Class S categories.
Class T caters for vehicles over four litres with independent rear suspension, while Class S is for cars up to four litres with solid axle rear suspension. There were eight classified finishers in Class T and only two in Class S, with Portuguese crew Rómulo Branco and João Serôdio taking the win ahead of Regent Racing Nissan Navara team-mates Sean Reitz and Gerhard Schutte. For Branco/ Serôdio it was a dream debut in the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, with a win an unlikely prospect after the pair failed to finish the 196 kilometre qualifying race.
The Portuguese pair started the race, run over two 251 kilometre loops, from the back of the field. The high attrition rate saw Branco and Serôdio gradually work their way through the field and, along with Reitz and Schutte, they are sitting pretty with a sizeable early Class S championship advantage over the rest of the opposition. The next race on the Donaldson Cross Country Championship calendar is the Sugarbelt 450 sprint event in Eston, on the outskirts if Pietermaritzburg, on May 8 and 9.
Photo credit: Keino Davie