Toyota Motorsport’s Duncan Vos and Rob Howie (Castrol Team Toyota Hilux) will have to wait until the final round of the 2012 Absa South African Off Road Championship to wrap up Vos’s fifth and Howie’s first national rally championship.
The championship leaders came into this weekend’s penultimate round, the Human Auto 400 in the Free State, with a lead of 24,5 points over nearest challengers Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Ford Ranger).
They started Saturday’s 360-kilometre race from the Black Mountain Hotel near Thaba Nchu in the eastern Free State in third place after Friday’s 62-kilometre prologue, behind team-mates Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin and Visser/Badenhorst.
In a fast race held in hot and dusty conditions that made safe overtaking almost impossible, they finished second, 36 seconds behind Visser and Badenhorst and 4 min 11 sec in front of Taylor and Birkin.
The top three in the championship standings dominated the event and any of them could have won. The difference was road position and Taylor and Birkin gave up their early lead to Visser and Badenhorst when they were forced to stop to change a punctured tyre after negotiating a steep drop into a dry river bed.
This also allowed Vos and Howie to pass them, as well as the BMW X3 of former champions Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege. At the compulsory halfway service stop at Black Mountain Hotel, 179 kilometres into the event, Visser/Badenhorst led Vos/Howie by a slender seven seconds with Grobler/Ter Stege a further 2 min 7 sec in arrears and 11 seconds in front of Taylor/Birkin.
Taylor, who had been frustrated in the dust behind Grobler since about the 60 kilometre mark in the morning, finally managed to get past Grobler in a slow, rocky section on a Free State koppie with some 65 kilometres to go.
Privateers Dirk Putter and Koos Claassens (Toyota Hilux) won class E and combined with Vos/Howie and Taylor/Birkin to win the manufacturers’ team award for Toyota. Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota Land Cruiser) won class D.
With the final round in November to come, Vos and Howie lead Visser and Badenhorst by 18,5 points. Even if Visser was to win the event, all the Castrol Toyota pair will have to do is finish at least seventh to score the nine points that would secure them the title.
Team-mates Taylor and Birkin are assured of at least third place in the final points’ standings, but with a gap of 20,5 points to Visser/Badenhorst and a maximum of 25 on offer there is still a chance of a memorable Toyota 1-2.
Duncan Vos: “It was really all about the prologue on Friday. It’s so important to get a good result in this time trial that determines the start order for Saturday’s race. We lost a bit of time here when we made a mistake following the route. We knew dust would be a problem on Saturday and although we gave it our best shot, we eventually had to settle for a safe second place and retain a useful lead in the championship.”
Anthony Taylor: “We were unlucky enough to pick up a puncture and this made all the difference in an event that was very dusty and overtaking was difficult. Once we lost our lead it was a case of playing catch up. We were very happy to have got past Hannes and Hennie, because it kept our hopes of completing a Toyota 1-2 in the championship alive.”
Team principal Glyn Hall: “Under the circumstances we are pleased to have both crews on the podium. Both cars performed faultlessly and this complete reliability bodes well for our attack on the Dakar Rally in South America in January. Our hopes of winning the championship are still very much alive.”
Toyota Acknowledges Its Sponsors, Specialist Official Suppliers and Technical Partners
Toyota enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Castrol, Innovation Group, IMPERIAL Toyota Group, NGK, Ferodo, SKF, Spanjaard, Edgecam and Donaldson.