Castrol Team Toyota achieved an epic one-two victory on the legendary Sugarbelt 450, Round 2 of the Donaldson Cross-Country Championship this weekend.
Leeroy Poulter and navigator Rob Howie made it two victories from two starts in the 2015 season, when they lead the race from start to finish. Defending champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy completed the tough event in second place, giving Castrol Team Toyota the top two steps of the podium on the 2015 Sugarbelt 450.
Thanks in part to the fifth-place finish of brothers Johan and Werner Horn in their Malalane Toyota Hilux, Toyota also added the manufacturer’s prize to their tally for the event.
The race, which was last run in 2013, again took place in the area around Eston, south of Pietermaritzburg in KwazuluNatal on 8 and 9 May 2015. The prologue race, which is traditionally run on the Friday of a race weekend, saw Poulter/Howie pip their teammates by just shy of 16 seconds. This placed them at the head of the field for Saturday’s main race – a crucial position in the dry conditions that the area is currently experiencing.
“The sugar cane fields of the Eston area are usually damp, with very little dust,” explained Poulter after the race. “But in the extremely dry conditions, there was an extreme amount of dust, which played a pivotal role in this year’s race.”
With Poulter/Howie leading teammates Taylor/Murphy by 16 seconds at the start, it was clear that only a major problem would allow anybody to pass the two Castrol Team Toyota Hilux vehicles. But the team made no mistakes, and Poulter/Howie took the flag 1:12 ahead of their teammates. Taylor/Murphy, in turn finished 3:32 ahead of third-placed crew Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable in a Ford Ranger.
“We are extremely pleased with our performance this weekend,” said a jubilant Team Principal Glyn Hall after the Sugarbelt. “You can’t ask for anything more than a one-two victory, and doing so in the Ford team’s backyard makes this a truly epic event for us.”
In Class S, Toyota achieved a second and third place, thanks to a great drive by Marius and Jolinda Fourie; as well as Heinie Strumpher and Henri Hugo, in similar Toyota Hilux race vehicles.
For Castrol Team Toyota, Poulter/Howie’s second victory places them firmly at the top of the standings in the 2015 championship. The next round, however, is the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, which is sure to be a pivotal race in this year’s championship.
“The Toyota 1000 Desert Race is always important in the championship, especially since it is the sole marathon round of the season,” explained Hall. “But we go there with two wins under our belt, so we have every reason to be positive about this year’s biggest race.”
The Desert Race will again be based around the Jwaneng area of southern Botswana, and takes place over the last weekend of June, 2015.