Toyota’s cup was filled to overflowing with the win by Bertholdt and Houghton spearheading Toyota winning the prestige South African Manufacturers Championship ahead of arch rivals Nissan. A hat-trick was completed with Toyota winning the manufacturers award on what was the final event in this year’s Absa Off Road Championship.
The Bertholdt/Houghton triumph was Toyota’s first overall national win since Apie Reyneke and Houghton, in a Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser, won the Barberspan 500 in 2002. With the race plagued by stormy weather throughout the weekend, the Castrol Toyota Hilux crew overcame atrocious conditions to come home around 18 minutes ahead of Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in the factory Ford Racing Ranger.
In the end it was a convincing margin, but Bertholdt and Houghton were under stress on the second of two 180 kilometre laps. Two punctures within 10 kilometres of the start of the loop left them with no further spare wheels.
“There was a lot of nervous tension in the car over the rest of the route,” said Houghton. “The conditions were very tricky but, apart from the punctures, we had a trouble free run.
“It was a long time coming, but this was a win worth waiting for and I think it means a great deal to the whole team.”
There was more disappointment, however, for their Super Production Class team-mates Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin. The pair set the fastest time in the Friday prologue to determine start positions, but their race was over within 50 kilometres with clutch failure.
“The story of our season,” said Cronje. “It was a major disappointment and this is a championship Chris and I would rather forget, but Bevan and Robin did a great job.
“Conditions were very difficult and their win is a boost for all of us.”
The Bertholdt/Houghton win and wrapping up the SA Manufacturers Championship also went a long way towards softening the blow when Toyota suffered their first defeat of the season in Class D. A string of seven wins came to an end when Nissan crew Arnold du Plessis and Johan Knox won Class D ahead of Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in the Castrol Toyota Hilux.
In a strong finish to the season the de Bruyn’s moved into second position in the Class D championship. Recently crowned SA champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in the Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux, and Cliff and Louis Weichelt, in the Bosal Toyota Hilux, were among those who succumbed to the atrocious conditions.
Down in Class E the Moffat brothers, Mark and Stuart, produced another solid performance to finish second behind the factory Ford Racing Ranger of Jack Peckham and Ward Huxtable. In other gutsy performances Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux) came in third in class and George and Sharon Barkhuizen, in the Ruwacon Toyota Hilux, followed up their Toyota Dealer 400 victory with fourth place.
It was also a frustrating and disappointing end to the season for Castrol Toyota Hilux pair Brian Martin and Ockie Fourie. Broken engine mountings hampered their progress on the first lap, and then a faulty fuel regulator saw the pair run out of petrol on the second loop.
“It wasn’t the finish to the season we wanted,” said Martin. “It was never going to be easy in those conditions, but we would have liked to make it to the end.”
At the end of the day Toyota Motorsport manager Wammy Haddad wore a big grin. The Bertholdt/Houghton win could not have come at a better time, and there were other positives from what has been a long and tough season.
“We have had our ups and downs this year, but today’s win was a massive boost,” said Haddad. “We dominated Class D throughout the season and winning the SA Manufacturers Championship is a credit to the effort put into the season by the factory teams and the privateers who did us proud.”