The Castrol Toyota Off Road Team has high hopes for this weekend's Nissan Dealer 400, round two of the Absa Off Road Championship, after its works and privateer teams grabbed seven of the top twelve qualifying spots in today's 40km Prologue that determines the starting order for tomorrow's gruelling 345km main event in the Darling area.
2004 Class D championship runners-up by one point Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin qualified a fine third overall in the Production Vehicle category in their Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i but only nine seconds ahead of Class D winners on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 Manfred Schroder and Alec Harris in the Team Ford Racing Ranger V6.
"We had a clean run but found the going in the soft sand a little tough," said Cronje. "We're delighted to be starting ahead of our archrivals and that's where we aim to stay throughout the race."
Reigning Class E champions Hugo and father Jaap De Bruyn in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i grabbed the top spot in Class E by qualifying 6th fastest and are only 1m12s adrift of Cronje and Birkin and 27 seconds ahead of their closest Class E rivals husband and wife Marius and Tracey van Vuuren who qualified 10th overall in the Bosal N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux.
Castrol Toyota pair Gavin Cronje, who is having his first outing in the Western Cape, and veteran co-driver Robin Houghton qualified eighth overall in the Production Vehicle category and second in Class D in their Hilux 2.7i and were followed two seconds later by teammates Paolo Piazza-Musso and Ockie Fourie in the Class D Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i in which Piazza-Musso won the class in the 2004 Nissan Dealer 400.
Next up were the van Vuurens followed by Durbanites Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo in the third placed Class E Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i and father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt in the Class D Bosal N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux.
"We are delighted by the performance of the works and privateer Toyota crews today," said Toyota Motorsport manager, Wammy Haddad. "The scales are certainly weighted in our favour and if the crews have their wits about them we are confident of a podium finish and victories in Class D and Class E."