Crews battle to grab the gold
Championships went down to the wire in last event of national off-road season
TEAM Castrol Toyota won the battle and the war with a one-two result on the Gold 400, the final round of the Absa Off Road Championship. Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin scored their first win of the season, but second place was enough for team-mates Duncan Vos and Rob Howie to clinch the Production Vehicle and premier SP Class championships. For Vos it was South African title number five, with Howie tasting championship success for the first time — and the pair will go to next year’s Dakar Rally in South America as undisputed South African champions.
Vos and Howie went in knowing that even a non finish would give them the Production Vehicle title ahead of former champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, who were in a must-win situation in the factory Ford Racing Ranger.
The SP Class title was up for grabs in a straight fight between the Team Castrol Toyota crews and the Ford pair with a disappointing seventh blowing Visser and Badenhorst out of contention.
“After three wins in a row, including the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, it looked as though we would wrap everything up earlier in the season,” said Vos. “We stumbled a little in the latter half of the year, but we finally got the job done. After the overnight rain, the conditions today made for a very difficult race but a one-two result is great for the team.”
Both Taylor-Birkin and Vos-Howie reported clean runs with two minutes and 21 seconds separating the two crews at the finish. Vos and Howie, in turn, had a twominute and 48-second advantage over Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren in the RFS BMW X3.
Behind the first three, only 53 seconds separated the next three cars, with Harrismith pair Kobus van Tonder and Freddie Kriel (UniFreight Ford Ranger) leading home last year’s overall and SP Class champions Jannie Visser-Joks le Roux (International Toyota Hilux) and veteran former champions Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege in the second RFS BMW X3. For Van Tonder-Kriel it was their best result of the year, with the race providing an emotional end to a 36year career in motorsport for the ever popular Grobler.
Youngsters Jason Venter and Vincent van Alleman left the best for last with victory in Class D in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux. The pair were well clear of brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Land Cruiser) and outgoing champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen in the LMC Land Rover.
Another victory put the final touches to a remarkable season for Class E champions Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux. In tough conditions for a four cylinder vehicle, they were the only finishers in Class E and it was win number seven — to go with a second place — for the North West province crew.
Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen wrapped up the Special Vehicle championship on the event. The pair, in the Motorite BAT Venom, went into the race locked in a three-way battle for the Special Vehicle and Class A championships with Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson (Atlas Copco BAT) and brothers Laurence and Gerhard du Plessis in a Zarco. By the end of the first of the two 170km loops, it was all over bar the shouting.
In wet and muddy conditions, Van Staden-Lawrenson and the Du Plessis brothers fell off the radar by the end of the first loop. At the halfway point Hutchison and Stassen reported a clear run, while the Atlas Copco crew retired with a broken side-shaft.
Hutchison and Stassen swept through the second loop with no problems to finish well clear of the husband and wife team of Marius and Jolinda Fourie, in the PHB BAT, who ended a disappointing season on a positive note.
Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen secured the Special Vehicle championship.