Toyota celebrated a dream debut for the brand-new Castrol Land Cruiser of Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton when they fought their way from the rear of the 80-odd strong field, to finish third in the Toyota 1000 Desert Race.

This was the third round of the 2002 Bankfin Off-Road Championship, held this past weekend near Gaborone in Botswana.

Although the event was won by Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke in a Nissan Hardbody Super Truck, Toyota Motorsport manager Wammy Haddad was more than happy with the performance of both the team and the vehicle.

“We rounded off months of construction only a few days before the event, and we are extremely happy that the vehicle survived its debut with not even the slightest of mechanical problems,” he said.

Reyneke and Houghton started from near the end of the huge field, made up of equel numbers of competitors in the Production Vehicle and Special Vehicle categories, after losing time stuck in a deep ditch in the prologue on Friday.

“We misread an instruction and overshot a turn-off, ending nose first into a deep ditch. Our new Land Cruiser was fitted with a new racing gearbox with a much longer first gear and we stalled trying to exit the ditch,” explained Reyneke. The team lost about 40 minutes battling to excavate the big Land Cruiser and had to settle for 75th starting position out of 86 entries.

“But after a mass start and passing over 70 other competitors, we arrived at the 500 km halfway mark 4th in the category and 5th on the road with only one space-frame competitor and three production vehicles in front of us.”

The second day’s last 500 km stint from the overnight stop back to Gaborone took the Castrol Land Cruiser T4 vehicle just over 6 hours to complete – a mer 8 minutes slower than the well-established Hardbody of winners Grobler and Leeke and just over three minutes behind second-placed Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in the European-built Ford Ranger V8.

Overall Production Vehicle Championship leaders Piet Haasbroek and Christo Bosch (Castrol Land Cruiser) claimed a well-deserved third in Class D after a race-long dual with defending Class D champion Shumi van Vuuren and new navigator Hennie ter Steege (Castrol Land Cruiser). Class D was eventually won by Duncan Vos and Mike Griffith (Nissan Hardbody) and Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Playstation Pajero) were second in Class.

“We drove for 400 of the first 500 km of the event battling with only two-wheel drive after breaking the front differential early in the race, and then suffered a puncture as well,” said Haasbroek who has managed to hold onto his overall lead in the Production Vehicle Championship. “Shumie and I fought a race-long dual over the last 500 km, but we were lucky to get past him a few kilometres before the finish when he was forced to stop and change a punctured wheel.”

Privateers Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn managed to salvage a Class E podium finish (second) for Toyota after the demise of Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie in the Castrol Condor who were forced out of the event early on the first day because of excessive dust in the engine.

Another privateer Toyota team, Hannes Steyn and Ferdi Seegers, claimed third position in Class E ahead of the Nissan Hardbody of brothers Jurie and André du Plessis.

    Top 10 results (production vehicles):
  1. Hannes Grobler/Richard Leeke (Nissan Hardbody; Class T winners)
  2. Neil Woolridge/Kenny Skjoldhammers (Ford Ranger V8; Class T)
  3. Apie Reyneke/Robin Houghton (Castrol Land Cruiser; Class T)
  4. Duncan Vos/Mike Griffith (Nissan Hardbody; Class D winners)
  5. Henri & Maurice Zermatten (Playstation Pajero; Class D)
  6. Piet Haasbroek/Christo Bosch (Castrol Land Cruiser; Class D)
  7. Shumie van Vuuren/Hennie ter Steege (Castrol Land Cruiser; Class D)
  8. Manfred Schroder/Jack Peckham (Ford Ranger; Class E winners)
  9. Jannie & Chris Visser (Toyota Hilux; Class T)
  10. Hugo & Jaap de Bruyn (Toyota Hilux; Class E)