The four-vehicle Castrol Toyota team contesting the 2004 South African off-road racing championship includes two former world karting champions and has a youthful look now that veterans Apie Reyneke and Kassie Coetzee have retired from the team. The first race in the series, the Nissan 400, will take place in the Darling area of the Western Cape on March 19-20.

Whereas vastly experienced Reyneke and Coetzee have been synonymous with Toyota and off-road racing for many years, the former world titleholders, Mark and Gavin Cronje, have loads of driving talent but little experience in non-circuit racing. In fact, younger brother Gavin will be making his debut in off-road racing this season, while Mark will be entering his second season after a sensational debut season where he won the Class E title and was runner-up in the overall Production Vehicle Category of off-road racing.

Toyota Motorsport will this year be focusing on renewed efforts in the Production Vehicle Championship with entries in Classes D and E after the huge success of Mark Cronjé in the 2003 Class E Castrol Toyota Hilux 2700i.

Mark, who won the Rotax Max world karting title in South Africa at the beginning of 2003 will this year be joined in the "works" team by his younger brother, Gavin, who won the Rotax Max world title in Puerto Rico in 2001.

“Racing karts is probably the best way of getting into racing – and staying concentrated,” said Mark Cronjé who showed great natural challenge and well disciplined driving to finish behind a Class T Nissan Super Truck in the title chase. He has also sharpened his talent further by attending a snow and ice driving school in Norway in December. He was accompanied to the advanced driving course by Charl Wilken, who has also switched from circuit racing to non-circuit events, driving a Class N3 RunX for the Castrol Toyota rally team.

With Toyota this year not racing in the costly Super Truck class, with its purpose-built Dakar-type racing machinery, the focus in the team has returned to vehicles more representative of the Toyota bakkies that can be seen all over South Africa – on and off the road.

Mark Cronjé will this year be racing a new and slightly upgraded 2700i Hilux 4x4 this year. Although similar to the Hilux he campaigned in Class E in the 2003 season he will now be in the same class as cars with six cylinder engines of more than 3-litres. But Mark says the four-cylinder 2,7-litre Hilux has the performance to stay with the front runners – and beat them.

He did so many times last year when he and co-driver Chris Birkin finished well ahead of the whole Class D field in most of the eight races; they were one of the few teams to complete all eight events in 2003.

Gavin Cronjé junior will benefit from the vast experience of multiple champion co-driver, Robin Houghton, who last year filled the hot seat next to Reyneke in the Class T Castrol Land Cruiser. Gavin and Robin will be racing new Class E Castrol Hilux 2700i similar to that raced by Mark last year.

Both these new Hiluxes have been by technicians at Toyota Motorsport’s Sandton workshop.

Mark Cronjé will be supported in Class D by another experienced karter, Paulo Piazza-Musso, who also has vast experience competing in a variety of off-road and rally vehicles. Rod Hering will partner piazza-Musso.

Gavin Cronjé will have the Class E support of the KwaZulu-Natal team of Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo in a 3,0-litre Hilux turbo diesel after last year campaigning a Ford Ranger turbo diesel in the same class.

A number of privateers will also be seen in Toyota off-road racing machinery this year.

Former Class E champions Hugo de Bruyn and his father Jaap will be campaigning Mark Cronjé’s 2003 championship-winning Class E Hilux 2700i 4x4, while Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst have bought and rebuilt the previous De Bruyn Hilux.

Well-known off-roaders Cliff and Louis Weichelt will also race a Class D Hilux, but their vehicle will be powered by a 3,4-liter Australian Hilux V6 engine. This configuration will be allowed because the regulations state that any volume production vehicle built anywhere in the world may be raced locally, providing volumes are big enough.

Husband and wife Marius and Tracey van Vuuren will now be donning Toyota caps instead of their Land Rover gear of last year and will be racing in a new Class E Hilux 2700i sponsored by N1 4x4 and Bosal.

The ex-Kassie Coetzee Hilux KZ-TE turbo diesel has been taken over by privateers Hein Moolman and Cecil Fincham.