There is no man-of-the-match award in cross-country racing – but if there was, that award would undoubtedly have been given to Leeroy Poulter, after his gutsy fight-back on the Toyota Dealer 450 in Mooi River. Together with co-driver Rob Howie, Poulter made up 43 places during the race, finishing in 6th and moving up to second in the Donaldson Cross-Country Championship.
Poulter was forced to start in 49th place after a disasturous prologue on Friday, during which his Castrol Team Toyota Hilux collided with a rock on the racing line, forcing him to stop. Having not completed the prologue, Poulter and Howie had to take part in the so-called mass start, and faced an uphill battle from get-go.
“We started more than 30 minutes behind the leaders, but we knew that the time wasn’t the issue,” said an elated Poulter after the race. “Getting past the mass of competitors ahead of us was always going to be the biggest challenge.”
The pair battled dust and slower competitors for more than seven hours, eventually finishing some 30 minutes behind the winners. Their Toyota Hilux didn’t miss a beat during the race, giving Poulter confidence for the rest of the season.
“The Hilux was as reliable as always,” reckons Poulter, “and it didn’t falter even for a moment. This is definitely a vehicle that can win the championship again.”
Defending champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy started the Toyota Dealer-sponsored event with a strong showing in the prologue. The pair posted the second-fastest time, and started the race some two minutes behind eventual winners Manfred Schröder and Japie Badenhorst in the Atlas Copco Ford Ranger.
In a reversal of fortunes, however, it was Taylor that collided with a rock, approximately 100 km into the 350 km-long race. The impact completely disabled the Castrol Team Toyota Hilux, forcing Taylor to retire for the first time in more than 15 events.
“It is just one of those unavoidable parts of motorsport,” said a disappointed Taylor. “This certainly puts some pressure on us for the championship, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Best of the Toyota Hilux racers were Johan and Werner Horn, in the Malalane Toyota Hilux, who secured third place after a particularly rough event. In Class S, for 4×4 vehicles with engines smaller than 4,000 cc and solid rear axles, Deon Venter and Ian Palmer secured a class victory in their 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux.
“It was a weekend of mixed results for us,” said Team Principal Glyn Hall. “Anthony showed real pace during the prologue, and was going strong in the race until he had the incident with a rock. Leeroy really shone in difficult conditions, having had to start so far back. It would have been great to achieve more on a Toyota-sponsored event, but we have to look forward to the rest of the season and focus on the points we managed to bag here in Mooi River.”
The next event, Round 3 of the Donaldson Cross-Country Champhionship, is the Nkomazi 450, which takes place near Malelane on 16 and 17 May, 2014.