It was a case of dust, dust and more dust when the 25th Toyota 1000 Desert Race, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, got underway with a 45km Prologue in Gaborone, Botswana today.
63 Special and Production Vehicles came under starters orders in what promises to be a closely fought race when the main event, which comprises a 480km loop on Saturday with another 480km loop on Sunday gets underway in Gaborone at 07h30 on Saturday.
Reigning Class D champions Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford showed their Proudly South African Nissan teammates and championship leaders Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan the way home by 43,7 seconds in the Prologue.
Grobler and Jordaan were 40,1 seconds faster than the leading Special Vehicle crew of Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau in the iBurst Advansoft BAT who won the season opening Nissan Dealer 400 and were six seconds faster than 2004 Toyota 1000 winners Atang Makgekgenene and Buks Carolin in the Total Jimco.
Former Class E champions Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin piled on the pressure in their Class D Castrol Toyota Hilux to qualify fifth overall and third in the Production Vehicle category only 1m35s behind Grobler and Jordaan, which is quite a feat considering that the near standard Toyota is powered by a 4-cylinder engine compared to the highly modified V6 powered Nissans.
Father and son Rob and Gareth Wark were sixth fastest in the Superpave Chenowth in which Greg Daus and VZ van Zyl won the Toyota 1000 in 2002 while Wark Sr. won the race in 1994 in a single seater Raceco.
2003 Toyota 1000 Special Vehicle winners battled with fuel pressure regulator problems on the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco and had to settle for seventh overall, only 0,9 seconds behind the Wark crew.
Class D championship leaders Manfred Schroder and Alec Harris were eighth overall, fourth in the Production Vehicle category and second in Class D. The Team Ford Racing pair trail arch rivals Cronje and Birkin by 55 seconds and will find it difficult to gain ground on them in the extremely dusty conditions.
KwaZulu-Natal crew Will Battershill and Reg Sutton, who finished second overall in the Special Vehicle category on the Nissan Dealer 400 in the ex-Terence Marsh Jimco, posted the ninth fastest time and will start 4m9s behind Special Vehicle category leaders Bertholdt and Rousseau.
Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst were the star turn in Class E and brought their Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux 2.7i home in 10th place, one minute ahead of Class E championship leaders Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i. The de Bruyn’s struggled with odometer problems resulting in them wrong slotting on numerous occasions and will start 16th.
Arnold Pistorius and Jurgen Steyn out qualified the Class B field in their Twin City Raceco and will start 34-seconds ahead of Class B winners on the Nissan Dealer 400 Ernest Corbett and son-in-law Warwick Goosen who finished 15th in their Century Property Developments BAT.
1990 Toyota 1000 winner Richard Schilling and co-driver Chris Davies were the leading Class S qualifiers in the Plastotech Aceco and will start 19th overall and 10th in the Special Vehicle category.
Some of the notable non-finishers include Class B leaders Evan Hutchison and Trevor Ormerod in the Motorite Racing BAT, which dropped a valve in its 2-litre Nissan engine and 2000 Toyota 1000 winners Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr in the Century Property Developments BAT, which was plagued with gearbox problems.
The surviving crews face 480km of thick sand, rocky sections and extremely dense bush when the 25th Toyota 1000 Desert Race gets underway at Game City in Gaborone at 07h30 on Saturday.