Toyota Gazoo Racing team, SA’s Leeroy Poulter and navigator Robert Howie pulled of a surprising victory this past weekend at the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 desert race ending team-mate Anthony Taylor’s successive run of victories.
Poulter and Howie led home Taylor/Dennis Murphy and Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach and German navigator Dirk Von Zitzewitz with all three in Toyota Hilux models running to FIA specifications.For Poulter and Howie, winners of the first heat,it was their fourth victory of the season and followed wins on the RFS Endurance.
The 34 year old South African National rally champion came agonizingly close last year in the race taking second position behind Taylor after his car broke down in the day two of the heats. Ironically the same fate befell Taylor whose production vehicle experienced technical problems in the last heat of the day as Poulter/Howie pounced to lead a Toyota lockout on the podium positions.
“Before the race started I discussed it with Howie on the importance of leading the pack in the day one of the heats and we successfully carried out the plan finishing on pole position at the end of day one. I obviously knew that Taylor was going to come out strong in the last heat so we tried by all means to build an unsalable lead and it paid off at the end,” Poulter said in a televised interview.
Toyota’s cup overflowed when Jason Venter and Vince van Alleman, in the 4*4 Mega World Toyota Hilux, finished in fourth place and won class T for cars over four litres with solid axle rear suspension and commercial tyres.
The last time Toyota failed to win the iconic race was in 2011 when Chris Visser & Japie Badenhorst won in an epic race.
Since then Toyota has widened the gulf in class in the race with the likes of Duncan Vos /Howie, Taylor/Murphy and Poulter solidifying the status of their Production vehicle. However for Ford performance factory team and ford privateers North West young-stars Jason Venter and Vince Alleman, it was not plain sailing as their car broke a shock absorber and ran out of brakes.
“It was a battle at times and the route was sandy and rough,however the main thing is that we brought the car home,” said Venter.
The ford crew had to be content with rounding out the top five, but two second places in Class T added up to a decent weekend for former South African champion Visser and Huxtaable, despite having few slumps on the road.
“We had two punctures and the first time our car fell off the jack, unfortunately this proved costly as we lost 10 minutes but it could have been worse,”Venter stated.
This year the race celebrated the 25 tenure under the Toyota banner, featuring round three of the Donaldson Cross Country championship, as well as three rounds of South African cross country Motor cycle and Quad racing championships. Making its return since 2013, the race motorcyles and the quad bikes competed on the same stage much to the satisfaction of thousands of spectators who showed up to the show.
Experienced motorcyle favorite and Motswana rider Ross Branch also took first position in the motor cycle category, granting him qualification for the Dakar Rally next year.