Nissan Motorsport manager, Glyn Hall and John Weir-Smith from the Kopanong Hotel Superteam gained the upper hand over a stellar cast in the Production and Special Vehicle categories respectively during the Prologue for the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, which got underway in Gaborone today.
Hall, who is standing in for the injured Giniel de Villiers, and co-driver Francois Jordaan completed the 32 kilometre Prologue in a time of 24 m 03 s to out qualify their Proudly South African Nissan team mates and reigning Production Vehicle champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke by 41,4-seconds.
Grobler and Leeke have won the Toyota 1000 three and six times respectively and are aiming to chalk up their third successive victory on what is arguably the toughest event in the Absa Off Road Championship. They will start nine seconds ahead of multiple former Toyota 1000 winners Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer in the Team Ford Racing Ranger.
2003 race winners John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt defied the odds when they were forced to remove the BMW 540 engine on the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco shortly before the start of the Prologue to replace a thrust bearing. Race officials granted them dispensation to start later and the pair went on to post the fourth fastest time overall and out qualify the rest of the Special Vehicle field.
Fifth fastest were former Production Vehicle drivers champion Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege in the third Class T Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody entered in the event. They will start 1 m 18 s behind Hall and Jordaan and 8,5-seconds ahead of Nissan Sugarbelt 400 winner Mark Corbett and co-driver Juan Mohr, who is standing in for an injured Gavin Kelsey. Corbett and Mohr won the 2000 Toyota 1000 Desert Race and are confident of a repeat win in the Century Property Developments BAT.
Nissan Dealer 400 winner Atang Makgekgenene and co-driver Buks Carolin, who won the event in 1992 and 1995, qualified seventh overall and third in the Special Vehicle category in the Total Jimco. Makgekgenene is hoping to become the first Motswana to win his home event.
Terence Marsh and Michael Whitehouse were eighth in the Nashua Mobile Racing Jimco and will start 29,8-seconds behind Makgekgenene and Carolin.
Reigning Class E champions Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin were ninth fastest and the leading Class D qualifiers in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2,7i, which is at a disadvantage in the horsepower stakes when compared to the 3,4 and 4-litre powered vehicles fielded by the Nissan and Ford teams respectively.
Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst kept the Toyota flag flying high when they brought their Tyco Toyota Hilux home 10th overall and first in Class E only 1,9-seconds behind Cronje and Birkin. Class D winners on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford, qualified 11th overall and second in Class D in the Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody that recently underwent a major revamp at the Nissan Motorsport facility in Midrand.
Former Class B contenders Henry Kirstein and Renier Jooste (Atlas Copco BAT) have moved up to Class A and acquitted themselves well by finishing 12th overall and fifth in Class A while Class E championship leaders Hugo and father Jaap de Bruyn were 13th overall and second in Class E in the Castrol Toyota Hilux.
KwaZulu Natal cane farmers Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham complained that the automatic transmission fitted to their Team Ford Racing Ranger took some getting used to in the tough Botswana conditions and could only manage to qualify 14th overall and third in Class D.
1990 Toyota 100 winner Richard Schilling and Rob Wark, who won the event in 1994, edged out the rest of the Class S field to grab 15th overall in the Plastotech Raceco.
Six times Toyota 1000 Desert Race winner Apie Reyneke, who has come out of retirement for this race, and last years Class D winner on the event, Shumie van Vuuren, could only manage to qualify 19th overall in the Toyota Land Cruiser and have some ground to make up over the leading Class D contenders.
Colin Matthews qualified 20th in the WPP and showed the rest of the Class B field the way home while Shameer Variawa and Nadeem Dudhia’s hopes of out qualifying the entire field in the Oven Fresh Biscuits Porter PR-1 all came to nought when they rolled in spectacular fashion.
The 500 kilometre Racing Section 1 of the Toyota 1000 Desert Race gets underway at Game City in Gaborone at 08h00 in the morning with the first vehicle expected at the overnight stop at Gaborone Motor Club at 15h00.