Toyota Motorsport youngster Mark Cronjé has done it again – this time in his very first marathon off-road race with a longer distance than that of his total off-road experience this far. -

- The event was the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, the most gruelling event on the 2003 Off-Road calendar and the only marathon event of the season. For Cronje it was a single race over two days covering more off-road kilometres than the sum of his off-road experience in the first two races of the year. -

- Cronjé, piloting the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2700i 4x4 in Class E, stormed ahead in the prologue on Friday, setting up a qualifying time that put him on pole in his class and eighth in the production vehicle category. -

- With a performance that clearly set him apart from Castrol Toyota team-mates Kassie Coetzee/Ockie Fourie (Hilux KZ-TE) and the best the rest of the opposition could offer, Cronjé stormed through the field of superior cars, including a host of Special Vehicle Category competitors in much quicker equipment. At the end of the first day’s racing the youngster was an unprecedented fourth overall with just two Class T Super Trucks and the Class D Castrol Land Cruiser of privateers Piet Haasbroek and Freddie Scheepers ahead of him. -

- “I have never been so tired in my life,” he said after the first 500 km, adding that although he was looking forward to the finish, he was not looking forward to another 500 km of bone-breaking dirt racing across the Botswana desert. -

- On the second day Cronjé proved his position amongst the top runners was not only the result of competitors ahead of him suffering problems, and raced ahead to finish a brilliant third overall in production vehicles – and ahead of all but one of the Special Vehicle competitor squad. -

- “It was awesome,” said navigator Chris Birkin. “I just hope Mark starts enjoying off-road racing more now that he has proved in just three races so far how good he really is when it comes to operating a race car.” -

- Cronjé was the star of the show with Toyota Motorsport’s Class T entry of Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton as well as teammates Coetzee/Fourie falling by the wayside. -

- Reyneke/Houghton had a serious mishap near the halfway mark on day one when the hit a very solid tree while trying to pass another competitor in heavy dust. -

- “We were right behind the Nissan Hardbody of Duncan Vos/Mike Griffith and were looking for a way past them when we hit the tree,” said Reyneke. The impact bent the front axle and the team limped to the designated service point for emergency repairs. -

- “Although we lost nearly three hours, we still had a chance of making it to the finish and were lying fourth at the overnight stop. Even if we didn’t move up the race order, it still would have meant a good haul of points,” Houghton explained. The team needed this because of a similar mishap in the previous event forcing them out of contention. -

- “But in the charge to try to make up some time, the gearbox broke from damage resulting from the heavy impact the day before,” a disappointed Reyneke said. -

- Coetzee/Fourie also suffered an early retirement when their vehicle hit the back of another competitor near the finish of the first day’s 500 km section, resulting in a fatal radiator leak. -

- “We had to call it quits in order not to seriously damaging the engine for no reason whatsoever,” the veteran rally and off-road champions said. -

- Toyota also took Class D honours thanks to the efforts of local privateers Shumie van Vuuren and Carlos de Abreu who entered their Land Cruiser for a one-off event, with the two Botswana businessmen taking fourth in the Production Vehicle Category, 24 minutes behind Cronjé/Birkin. -

- Castrol Land Cruiser privateers Piet Haasbroek/Freddie Scheepers, who had a brilliant run on the first day to start the second section in third position overall, were third in Class D for a well-deserved sixth position at the end of the 1 000 km Toyota Desert Race.