There will be cause for celebration in Botswana from June 3-5 when the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, celebrates its 25th anniversary.
The event has been in existence since 1975 when it was known as the Total Trans Kalahari Road Race until 1979. IGI backed the event in 1980 and it then became known as the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, which was first held in the Vryburg area from 1981 to 1990 and then moved to its new home in Botswana in 1991.
Toyota South Africa made its first inroads into the local vehicle market in 1961 as a supplier of light commercial vehicles and although the company now offers a comprehensive range of passenger cars, as well as medium and heavy trucks, the LCV market remains a backbone of its ongoing success with 25 consecutive years of overall market leadership, celebrated at the end of 2004.
Proving the Hilux and Land Cruiser bakkies in the demanding world of off-road racing was a natural for Toyota in the 1980's and the company has continued its support for this form of motor sport from those early days of racing "farm" bakkies to the more specialised production vehicles that compete today.
From 1981 to 1991 the rules only made provision for overall winners in the scoring but in 1992 the then Off Road Commission decided to split the championship into Special Vehicle and Production Vehicle categories with overall winners recognised in each category.
Toyota dominated the Production Vehicle category from 1988 to 1999 with Apie Reyneke, Kassie Coetzee, Philip Malan and Andre Kock winning nine times. Kock and Koos Coetzee won in a Toyota Land Cruiser in 1988 with Malan and Richard Leeke, who has won the event seven times as a co-driver, victorious in a Toyota Hilux in 1989. Kassie Coetzee and Leeke won in a Toyota Hilux in 1992 and 1993.
Then it was the turn of Apie Reyneke and Lucas Dreyer, who had won in a Nissan Safari in 1987, to win in a Toyota Land Cruiser in 1994. Reyneke and Robin Houghton teamed up and went on to win in a Toyota Land Cruiser in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 1999.
Other notable Production Vehicle category winners include Hannes Grobler Piet Swanepoel who won in 1986 in a Nissan Safari. Grobler and Richard Leeke, who has been the winning co-driver on seven occasions, won in a Nissan Hardbody in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Neil Woolridge has won the Toyota 1000 Desert Race on three occasions. In 1996 he and Paul Vermaak won in a Nissan Sani then followed two wins with Kenny Skjoldhammer in a Mitsubishi Pajero in 2000 and in a Ford Ranger in 2001.
"Toyota was a keen supporter of the move back to Botswana in 1991, as this is a very important market for our company and we have a share of more than 40% of retail sales in that country - in fact, our Botswana dealers proclaim the fact by saying 'Botswana is Toyota country'", comments Dr Johan van Zyl, President and CEO of Toyota South Africa. "The importance of our brand awareness in this market and in Southern Africa, in general, is one of the reasons we have continued to support the Toyota 1000 Desert Race for 25 years. It is interesting to note that the event has run for the same time as our market leadership."
The 25th Toyota 1000 Desert Race gets underway with a 40km Prologue at 13h00 on Friday, 3 June followed by a 480km section from Game City in Gaborone to the designated service point at Mantshwabisi and back to Game City, which starts at 07h30 on Saturday. Survivors of day one will restart at Game City at 07:30 on Sunday and tackle the route in the opposite direction before finishing at Game City at approximately 14h00.