First and second in competitive Class E for near-standard Hilux bakkie Mark Cronjé closer to overall championship. Toyota Motorsport clinched yet another Class E victory in what was described as an extremely tough Sun City 400, sixth round of the SA Off-Road Championship presented by Absa. -

- The 400-km event was run over three identical loops of 130 km each in the Pilanesberg area, on farm roads and veld tracks surrounding the breath-taking nature reserve next to the world-renowned Sun City Casino resort. The race was won overall by Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke (Class T Nissan Hardbody) to claim their team’s 13th successive off-road victory, with teammates Duncan Vos and Mike Griffith second across the finishing line in a similar vehicle. -

- Toyota’s Mark Cronjé and Chris Birkin stormed home in third – the second time this season the team, a combination of youthful talent in ex-circuit racing champion Cronjé and years of experience in rallying and off-road racing in co-driver Birkin. -

- “I never want to change another wheel in my life,” said an exhausted but elated Cronjé after taking their fourth successive Class E victory in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2700i, despite suffering no less than three punctures on the rough and demanding event. -

- “It was a tough race and definitely one of the most challenging events of the season, but not the worst,” said Cronjé, who is racing in his first season of off-road competition. -

- The second Class E Castrol Toyota Hilux, the turbo diesel KZTE of Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie was second in class. This crew moved up to fifth overall in the production vehicle category when the Class D Nissan Hardbody of Deon Schoeman and Jeremy Fall was excluded from the results after being reported to have deviated from the official route. Coetzee and Fourie are lying third in the overall championship and second in Class E for the year. -

- Toyota’s hopes of an overall victory were shattered when top contenders Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton suffered gearbox failure in their Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser 4,5 EFi, but not before they moved up from fourth to second and were putting pressure on Grobler/Leeke for the lead. -

- “We dropped back in the beginning behind Duncan Vos/Mike Griffith (Hardbody) and Neil Woolridge/Kenny Skjöldhammer (Ford Ranger) because of dust, but they took a wrong turn and we moved into second,” said co-driver Houghton who was very upbeat about their performance. -

- “Although we did not finish, we now know our Cruiser is able challenge the Nissan Hardbodies on rough events and it is just a matter of time before we are back on the podium,” he said referring to a spate of problems that have prevented the team achieving better results against the all-conquering Nissans. -

- Third place overall and a class win has enabled Cronjé and Birkin to strengthen their position as runners-up in the overall championship, behind Grobler/Leeke who have now extended their advantage to 32 points. With main rivals Manfred Schröder/Jack Peckham suffering a non-finish in the Class E Ford Ranger, Cronjé and Birkin are virtually assured of the Class E Championship with two events to go. -

- “I’m really looking forward to the Mpumalanga event next month,” said Cronjé. “I am now into the rhythm of off-road racing and enjoy each race more than the previous one – if it just wasn’t for those punctures. -

- Photographs available on www.motorpics.co.za