The Toyota assault will be spread among factory Castrol Toyota entries and privateers. Toyota Motorsport manager Wammy Haddad said this week Toyota will field at least 12 teams spread across the Super Production Class and Classes D and E.
“The squad will be made up of a mixture of experienced campaigners and newcomers to the world of off road racing,” said Haddad. “”It is a combination that has served us well in the past, and we are looking forward to a successful season.
“The priority is to win championships, and we think we have the vehicles and the driver/co-driver combinations to do just that.”
The Castrol Toyota factory team will be spearheaded by pair of Toyota Hilux 4.0 V6 Super Production Class entries for brothers Mark and Gavin Cronje who will again have the highly experienced Chris Birkin and Robin Houghton sitting alongside them. There is a possibility, however, that both SP’s won't be ready in time for the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape on March 17 and 18.
Should this be the case Gavin, the younger of the Cronje’s, and Houghton will compete in Class D in the Western Cape.
Unlike last season, Toyota will not run a factory car in Class D. The Toyota challenge in this category will be in the hands of former Class E champions Jaap and Hugo de Bruyn, with driver Hugo persuading father Jaap to do co-driving duties for another season.
The pair will run the ex Cronje/Birkin vehicle with support from both Toyota and Castrol. With plenty of experience behind them, the de Bruyn’s should be highly competitive.
Toyota will this year have a powerful presence in Class E, and will be early favourites to win the championship. Leading the challenge will be two Castrol Toyota Hilux entries with Paolo Piazza-Musso to be joined by current Class D co-drivers champion Alec Harris, and Toyota engineer Brian Martin who links up with Ockie Fourie.
Harris switches to Toyota from Ford after winning the Class D co-drivers title last year while paired with Manfred Schroeder. Fourie sat alongside Piazza-Musso last season.
The factory entries will be up against reigning champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, who will again campaign a Toyota Hilux running under the Tyco Trucks banner. They will also be a force with which to be reckoned, while Cliff and Louis Weichelt, after missing much of last season, will also be back in action.
George Barkhuizen and wife Sharon will run a two-car team with backing from Ruwacon. The Barkhuizen's will be out in a new Class E car with Pieter Ruthven and Dewaal Boshoff taking over the ex Barkhuizen vehicle which is undergoing a rebuild at the team's Bloemfontein headquarters.
Ruthven and Boshoff are newcomers to off road and another interesting newcomer to the off road scene is Fabio Tafani. An experienced kart and circuit racer, Tafani will link up with Mike Baron in another Class E entry.
They will campaign the ex Zane Pearce factory vehicle. Pearce will this year concentrate on circuit racing, and it will be interesting to see how Tafani takes to off road.
Rounding out the Toyota challenge will be Jaco Swanepoel, with co-driver Graham Bishop, a Springbok Navigator who hails from Port Elizabeth, in a Class E entry and Mike Tomsett and Brian Haviland who will campaign in the SP Class. At this stage, however, it would appear that both Swanepoel and the Tomsett/Haviland will miss the first event, and will join the fray at the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in KwaZulu-Natal in May.