Reigning Production Vehicle champions Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie led the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team to a stunning clean sweep of the podium places in heat two of the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round three of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship.
Poulter and Howie led home Anthony Taylor/Dennis Murphy and Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz with all three in Toyota Hilux models running to FIA Class specifications. For Poulter and Howie, winners of the first heat, it was their fourth victory of the season and followed wins on the RFS Endurance and the Vredefort Super Sprint.
Toyota’s cup overflowed when Jason Venter and Vince van Allemann, in the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux, finished in fourth place and won Class T for cars over four litres with solid axle rear suspension and commercially available tyres. For the young North West crew it was the biggest win of their careers.
Once again the last day on the Desert Race took its toll and there were only eight finishers in the Production Vehicle category. Three of them were FIA Class cars – out of six starters – with the balance Class T cars.
It was almost the perfect weekend for Poulter and Howie who finished second to Taylor and Murphy in the qualifying race to determine first heat start positions. They totally dominated heat one and in today’s race they were just over 10 minutes ahead of their team-mates, with around 13 minutes separating Taylor/Murphy and Rautenbach and former Dakar Rally winner von Zitzewitz.
“We had a clean run but the route was very rough, bumpy and badly rutted,” said Rautenbach. “Altogether it was a really tough challenging event.”
For Venter and van Allemann, who have come of age over the last two seasons, it was not all plain sailing. They broke a shock absorber, a steering arm and finally ran out brakes.
“It was a battle at times and the route was sandy and rough,” said Venter. “The main thing is we brought the car home.”
Venter and van Allemann have been involved in a tremendous battle at the top of Class T with former winner Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable in the Neil Woolridge Motorsport Ford Performance Ranger. Visser and Huxtable finished ahead of the North West crew in the first heat, but this time roles were reversed.
The Ford crew had to be content with rounding out the top five, but two second places in Class T added up to a decent weekend for former South African champion Visser and Huxtable. But the pair also ran into problems.
“We had two punctures and the first time the car fell of the jack,” said Visser. “That cost us about 10 minutes but it could have been worse.”
Luke Botha and Andre Vermeulen, in the Red-Lined Nissan Navara, also had a pretty good weekend and today came home in sixth overall and third in Class T. Botha described today’s route as a ‘kidney shaker’ but the Nissan Navara crew came home with around 80 seconds to spare on Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer, in the second NWM/Ford Performance Ranger who made a good recovery after rolling the Ford in the qualifying race for heat one.
“We broke a shaft about 100 kilometres in the first loop,” said Woolridge. “In thick sand being reduced to two-wheel drive is not an ideal situation.”
Christiaan du Plooy and former winner Japie Badenhorst (RSF VW Amarok) also had a difficult weekend but stuck to their guns. A much better day saw the pair home in eighth overall with the RFS Amarok again showing its potential.
There were no Class S finishers and the tough route also took its toll on the two Class E cars.
Images: Waldo van der Waal