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Toyota top at SA ABSA off-road Champs final

27 November 2012

Gold 400

An exciting off road racing season has come to an end, with a dramatic end for Toyota SA’s 2012 season.

The season end sees the Toyota Castrol team winning the coveted SP class title, with Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin taking the top spot on the podium. By their side are their team mates Duncan Vos and Rob Howie, and their winnings ensured that Toyota took the Manufacturers’ Championship for the fifth year in a row. In third place are Christiaan du Plooy and team mate Henk Janse van Vuuren in their BMW X3.

In a third Hilux, Dirk Putter and Koos Claassens won class E, and Cliff Weichelt and Johan Smalberger won class D in their Land Cruiser at the Human Auto 400 in October.

The Gold 400, which saw the culmination of an eight-race long season, was a new event held at Westonaria, in the West Rand of Gauteng. The 340km route saw heavy rain and tough driving, despite which Taylor and Birkin managed an easy run and their first win of the season. After this final leg, Vos and Howie were crowned the new SA champions, with team mates Taylor and Birkin coming second, and the challengers to the Toyota champs Chris Visser and Japie Stapelberg coming third in the championship in their Ford Ranger after finishing fifth at the Gold 400.

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 36 year career in motorsport for the ever popular Grobler.

At one stage it looked as though Grobler and ter Stege would sign off with a podium finish. That, however, was scuppered by a late puncture.

After back to back wins in the last two events seventh – after a string of punctures – was a disappointing end to the season for Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst with the top eight completed by Terence Marsh and George Smalberger in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara. The only hiccup for the pair came when they were stuck in a mud hole on loop two and had to be pulled clear by a Special Vehicle crew.

Notable retirements were Donaldson Prologue winners Gary Bertholdt and Ralph Pitchford (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux), Archie Rutherford and cricket legend Jonty Rhodes in the SA Warranties Nissan Navara and Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable in the second Ford Racing Ranger. A steering problem sidelined Bertholdt/Pitchford, mechanical maladies also put paid to Rutherford and Rhodes and Woolridge/Huxtable retired after hitting a rock.

Vos was sure of the overall title before the Gold 400 even began, but needed to clinch an SP class win and be allowed to carry SP1 on the Toyota Hilux in 2013:

It’s been a long season and we’ve had to work hard for our results, but I’m very happy for the whole team that we’ve pulled off the championship win,” said Vos. “The Castrol Toyota Hilux has performed magnificently this season and all of this bodes well for our second visit to the Dakar Rally in South America in January, where we will be racing the same Hilux.”

Glyn Hall, team principal and Toyota Motorsport directed, said:

“We were under a lot of pressure to win this season and the pressure mounted as the outcome of the championship went down to the wire. We’re relieved and proud that we’ve managed to pull it off.

“Now we can concentrate all our attention on the very important challenge of the Dakar Rally in just six weeks’ time.”