Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin (Class SP Castrol Team Toyota Hilux) overcame two punctures, one on each of the two 159 kilometre loops that made up Saturday’s Sun City 400 in North West Province, to finish a fighting second in the production vehicle category, 2 min 7 sec behind the winning BMW X3 of Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren.
Team-mates Duncan Vos and Rob Howie crossed the finishing line at Sun City in third place, 5 min 53 sec behind Taylor and Birkin after also experiencing a puncture, a split brake pipe and a broken gear lever. They were later penalised 15 minutes by race officials for a misunderstanding regarding their start time for the second loop. This dropped them to seventh overall and also in the premier Super Production class.
Despite this setback they still lead the Absa Off Road Car Championship with 107,5 points, 23 points ahead of Taylor and Birkin and 38 in front of Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Ford Ranger), who finished fourth behind the Ford Ranger of Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling and ahead of Pikkie Labuschagne and Rickus Erasmus (Toyota Hilux).
Toyota won the manufacturers’ prize on the day thanks to Taylor/Birkin, Labuschagne/Erasmus and Vos/Howie.
In an event characterised by heat and thick dust in the dry winter savannah and hills around the Pilanesberg, the championship front runners were at a disadvantage before the event started at 08.30. They were among the leading group to tackle Friday’s 56 kilometre Donaldson Prologue, which determines the start order for Saturday’s race, and had to contend with opening the route for the large field of 58 production and special vehicles and also with the dust of vehicles ahead of them that ran into problems.
Taylor and Birkin started on Saturday morning in sixth place on the road, behind three production vehicles and two special vehicles. Battling to make headway in the thick dust of the bunched field in the opening kilometres, they picked up a puncture that dropped them back to sixth place in their category, 6 min 17 sec behind the leading BMW of Du Plooy and Janse van Vuuren.
By the compulsory stop at the halfway Designated Service Park at Sun City, they were back in second place, 4 min 19 sec behind the leading BMW. A second puncture at the 265 kilometre mark dropped them back another two minutes, but with 42 kilometres to the finish they had already made up a minute and continued to eat into the winners’ lead right up to the chequered flag.
“It was a fast, tough race and we were disappointed to have to stop to change two flat tyres,” said Taylor, who has now finished twice three times in five races. “There was always a risk chasing in the dust, but we had to push for a win. It was that close.”
Vos, looking for his fourth consecutive win on his way to a fifth championship title, was equally frustrated at having to come from behind in the challenging conditions. “It was very hectic in the opening kilometres this morning, when the field was still bunched up, and it was difficult to see the rocks in the dust,” he said.
They were up to fifth by the halfway stop, 8 min 17 sec behind the leaders after making up a couple of places despite stopping to change a punctured tyre. They also had a last minute problem during the service stop when the team discovered a brake pipe had been damaged on a rock. “There wasn’t time to repair the damage at that late stage, so the technicians sealed off the pipe and we went back into the race with three functioning brakes,” said Vos.
“We pushed hard in the second loop to make up the lost time and managed to close the gap to Anthony and Chris to 5 min 13 sec. Unfortunately we started the second loop out of sequence as a result of our being given the incorrect start time and we were penalised for this.”
Privateers contributed handsomely to Toyota’s rich haul of points – 10 were among the 17 production vehicles that were classified as finishers – which increased Toyota’s lead in the manufacturers’ championship.
Louis Weichelt and Maret Bezuidenhout (Toyota Land Cruiser) won class D and finished eighth overall, while Dirk Putter and Kobus Claassens (Toyota Hilux) won class E and finished 11th overall.
The next round of the championship is the 4x4 Mega World 400 in Gauteng on August 31 and September 1.
Toyota Acknowledges Its Sponsors and Specialist Official Supplier and Technical Partners
Toyota enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Castrol, Innovation Group, IMPERIAL Toyota Group, NGK, Ferodo, SKF, Spanjaard, Edgecam and Donaldson.