The 25th Toyota 1000 Desert Race delivered its fair share of drama when the event, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, got underway in Gaborone, Botswana this morning.
Reigning Production Vehicle Drivers champion Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan grabbed the lead from their Proudly South African Nissan teammates Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford but it was short lived. The Nissan struck a ditch and damaged the left front suspension and brake disk and they lost over an hour repairing the damage, which dropped them down to 50th overall. Four times Toyota 1000 winner Grobler drove like a man possessed to make up 30 places to finish 20th overall and 11th in the Production Vehicle category.
Barring one puncture Cox and Pitchford had a clean run and completed the 480km route in 7h44m and will start tomorrow’s final 480km leg with a 13m47s lead over Class D leaders Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i. The Toyota pair has a 53-minute lead over Class D rivals Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler in the Master Craft Ryobi Mitsubishi Pajero.
Durban based Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo were the Class E leaders in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i.
Class D championship leaders Manfred Schroder and Alec Harris retired from the race when the engine on the Team Ford Racing Ranger blew midway into the race while team mates and Class E contenders damaged their Class E Team Ford Racing Ranger when they collided with the Bosal Brospeed Land Rover of brothers Mark and Stuart Moffat.
The Special Vehicle category developed into a dog fight between 2004 Toyota 1000 winners Atang Makgekgenene and Buks Carolin in the Total Jimco and Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau in the Advansoft iBurst BAT with the BAT pair edging out the race favourites by 35-seconds at the finish.
Shameer Variawa and VZ van Zyl were third in the Total Porter with Nick and Ryan Harper fourth in a Class A BAT. Don Thomson and Wally Pooler brought their ageing Sandmaster across the line first in Class B ahead of more fancied crews like Class B winners on the Nissan Dealer 400 Ernest Corbett and Warwick Goosen and reigning Class B champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain in the JRE. Corbett had to seek medical attention for dehydration at the end of the gruelling first half of the race.
Richard Schilling, who won the Toyota 1000 in 1990, and co-driver Chris Davies survived an encounter with a large tree to retain the Class S lead in the Plastotech Aceco.
2003 Toyota 1000 winners John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt were handily placed at the midway service point but were forced to retire with overheating problems on the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco.
Bevan Bertholdt and Nick Selemolela started 45th in the Advansoft iBurst BAT Spec-1 and had made up 25 places when the engine management system failed while 2000 Toyota 1000 winners Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr didn’t even make the start of the race after the gearbox on the Century Property Developments BAT failed for the second time in two days.
34 of today’s 55 starters made it to the finish Racing Section 1 of the 25th Toyota 1000 Desert Race and it is likely that only 50% of the starters of Racing Section 2 will make it the finish in Gaborone tomorrow afternoon.