After a dream start to his national off-road career, Castrol Toyota factory driver Mark Cronje will be looking for another good result on the Nissan Sugarbelt in KwaZulu-Natal this weekend (May 9 and 10). -

- Cronje and the experienced Chris Birkin, in the Team Castrol Toyota Hilux, finished third overall in the Production Vehicle category and won Class E on the Nissan Dealer 400, the opening event of the season, in March. It was a fairytale off-road debut for Cronje, the reigning Rotax Max kart world champion, who made the transition to off-road racing following Toyota’s withdrawal from the SA Production Car Championship. -

- The Nissan Dealer 400 result left Cronje and Birkin lying second in the overall Production Vehicle championship behind vastly experienced former champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke in the Nissan Harbody running in the premier Class T category. Cronje, however, is under no illusions about the challenge he faces on an event that offers vastly different conditions from those encountered in the Western Cape in the season opener. -

- “I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season, but that is history,” said Cronje. “This is another race and for me the learning curve continues. -

- “I am lucky to have someone as experienced as Chris sitting alongside me, and the main object on the Sugarbelt is to make it to the finish.” -

- A major positive for Cronje and Birkin, however, is the fact that they learned a great deal about the Team Castrol Toyota Hilux on the Western Cape outing. In the interim a great deal of development work has been carried out on the Toyota Hilux, and Cronje is quietly confident of another good result. -

- “We picked up a few problems on the first event, and since then a lot of work has gone into the vehicle,” said Cronje. “Consistency is a key factor in any form of racing, and if we keep the vehicle together and stay on the road we can pick up a nice points haul. -

- “The first race was a bit of a culture shock for me, but I enjoyed it and it provided a nice platform on which to build.” -

- Team Castrol Toyota has a double-pronged attack in Class E with Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie out in a second Toyota Hilux. Hopes of an overall win will rest with former champions Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton in the Team Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser, with Toyota and Ford out to end Nissan’s current domination of the national off-road series.