Having returned from the 2018 Dakar Rally with silverware in hand - for their second and third place overall - Toyota Gazoo Racing SA is shifting its focus to the South African championships it competes in. Last year saw the team triumph in both the South African Cross-Country Series, and the National Rally Championship, and the team will be aiming for more of the same in 2018.
"We certainly had a good year in 2017," says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. "And we started 2018 with a bang, thanks to two podiums on the Dakar Rally. But as a South African team, competing on South African soil is extremely important to us, and we're looking forward to getting both championship seasons under way."
On the cross-country front, the team will be fielding its brand new, revolutionary Toyota Hilux, in near-identical spec to that used during this year's Dakar Rally in South America.
"The Toyota Hilux has already proven itself on the world's toughest automotive race, and we are excited to develop it further during the 2018 SACCS," continues Hall. "While we were extremely satisfied with our performance on the Dakar Rally, there are always gains to be made, and we certainly won't be resting on our laurels this year."
The Toyota Hilux will compete in Class FIA of the South African Cross-Country Series, which means that South African fans will get to see the Dakar-spec vehicle in action locally. What's more, Dakar veteran Giniel de Villiers will be taking charge of one of the cars.
De Villiers, who finished third in the overall classification of Dakar 2018, will be partnered by navigator Rob Howie for 2018. Howie is, himself, a veteran of seven Dakars, most recently having navigated Toyota driver Lucio Alvarez (Argentina) to a tenth-place finish on Dakar 2018. Howie has also won the South African championship as navigator three times - 2012, 2015 and 2016.
De Villiers/Howie will be joined in the team by former rally driver Henk Lategan. Lategan cut his teeth in Class S2000 of the South African National Rally Championship during 2013, spending three years with the Volkswagen Rally team, and also competing in numerous international rallies. During 2017 he made the switch to cross-country racing, joining the Ford team as the third driver in their line-up.
"It was a steep learning curve for me," says Lategan of his cross-country experience so far. "But I'm confident that I've gained a lot of experience, and I'm now looking forward to the next chapter in my racing career."
Lategan will be joined by former champion navigator Dennis Murphy for 2018. Murphy formerly partnered multiple cross-country champion Anthony Taylor for Toyota, and his experience and calm demeanor will certainly aid Lategan during his first season with Toyota Gazoo Racing SA.
Toyota Gazoo Racing SA will also be represented in Class T of the SACCS by brothers Johan and Werner Horn, who campaign the Malalane Toyota-backed Hilux. The brothers won the 2017 title after a tough battle with the Ford team, and are looking forward to defending their crown.
Toyota is also supported by a number of privateers, including the 4x4 Mega World Team. This year, former Class T champion Jason Venter, partnered by Vince van Alleman, makes the move to Class FIA; while younger brother Dylan will join the fray in Class T of the series.
In addition to competing in the local SACCS, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA will also be taking part in a number of international races, as part of its preparation for Dakar 2019. The details will be announced in due course.
Back on home soil, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA will also be represented in the South African National Rally Championship by defending multiple champions Guy Botterill and navigator Simon Vacy-Lyle.
The pair piloted their Class R2 Toyota Etios to a third consecutive championship in 2017, and will continue to fly the flag for the team.
"The 2017 title fight turned into quite a challenge for us, as it came down to the very last race of the season," explains Botterill. "For 2018 we've invested in a new version of the Toyota Etios, which sports newer and more electronics, a better power curve in the engine, and refinements to the weight and suspension of the car. Most of these are small improvements, but hopefully it all adds up in the end."
The first national rally of 2018 is the Trade Brand Rally, which takes place on 9-10 March in Kwazulu/Natal. The SACCS gets under way a week later, with the Mpumalanga 400 in Dullstroom.
"For us at Toyota SA Motors, motorsport has always been an integral part of both our DNA and our marketing strategy. As such we are looking forward to the 2018 season, both locally and internationally, and we are confident that our products will continue to perform at the very highest levels," says Toyota SA Motors Vice-President: Marketing, Glenn Crompton.
Toyota Motorsport South Africa Acknowledges Its Sponsors and Specialist Official Supplier and Technical Partners
Toyota enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Total, Toyota Financial Services and the Innovation Group. Also, Hallspeed, Imperial Toyota, SKF, Spanjaard, Robor, OMP, NGK, Donaldson, Mastercraft, Edgecam, Bandit Signs, Shatterprufe, Supreme Springs, Smith’s Manufacturing, TRD, Peritus Forex, 4x4 Mega World, First National Battery and Plan-C Productions.