No Luck In Human Auto 400
For Castrol Team Toyota it was a case of winning the battle and losing the war in the penultimate round of the Absa South African Off Road Championship, which took place within the extensive grounds of the De Brug military base near Bloemfontein.
The Human Auto 400 started promisingly with Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin winning the 60-kilometre Donaldson Prologue on Friday in their Super Production class Castrol Team Toyota Hilux Double Cab with team-mates Duncan Vos and Rob Howie third in the second factory Hilux.
Just 19 kilometrtes into Saturday’s 352-kilometre race route Taylor and Birkin lost the lead to eventual winners and defending champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (SP Ford Ranger) when they stopped to replace a broken steering rod end. Soon after they were forced to stop a second time when the other steering rod end broke. Without any more spares they were forced to wait for their service crew to rescue them and withdrew from the event.
Vos and Howie meanwhile had moved into second place and were just 12 seconds behind Visser and Badenhorst when they too were forced to stop with fuel pump failure at the 160 kilometre mark, just 16 km from the compulsory halfway service stop at the General De Wet Range. They lost three minutes waiting for the spare fuel pump to cool down before they could switch it on and continue, reaching the service point in fifth place and over four minutes behind the leaders.
In hot and dusty conditions that made overtaking difficult and dangerous, the four-times champion pushed hard on the second of the day’s two 176-km loops. He closed to within 2 min 24 sec of Visser and was challenging the factory Ford Ranger of Lance Woolridge for third place just six kilometres from the finish when he was forced to slow with an overheating engine and eventually stop to preserve it.
It was a heartbreaking end to a great effort under difficult circumstances and robbed the pair of what could have been a hard-earned third place and 15 important championship points.
As it is, with neither Castrol Toyota crew scoring any points on this occasion, the outcome of the 2011 drivers’ and co-drivers’ championships is delicately poised with the final round, the RFS Magaliesberg 400, due to take place in Gauteng on November 12.
Vos and Howie are third in the championship with 67 points, 15,5 behind leaders Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr (Nissan Navara) and 10,5 behind Visser and Badenhorst. Taylor and Birkin are seventh with 51,5 points and out of contention. .
“We’ve now found a hundred things that can go wrong with an off-road racing bakkie,” rued team principal Glyn Hall. “It’s been a tough couple of events we’ve had to endure with not much to show for our efforts in the way of results. But we’ve learnt a lot and our championship challenge is still alive.”
Toyota acknowledges its sponsors and specialist official supplier and technical partners. Toyota enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Castrol, Innovation Group, NGK, IMPERIAL Toyota Group, SKF, Ferodo, Spanjaard, Edgecam and Donaldson.