The first dust of the 2019 Toyota 1000 Desert Race (TDR 1000), round three of the South African National Cross Country Series (SACCS) taking place at Selebi-Phikwe in Botswana this weekend kicked off when teams in the Production, Special Vehicle and Side x Side categories had to complete the 60km Qualifying Race.
The Qualifying Race determines starting positions for the race on tomorrow and with only seconds separating the teams, an interesting start can be expected on when teams take on the day’s route that consists of a total of 440 kilometres. In true TDR 1000 style and as the only marathon event on the SACCS calendar, another 400 kilometres will be waiting on Sunday and teams who completed all three days successfully, will be able to bag double points in their championship aspirations.
There was an interesting turn of events at the front of the Production Vehicle category and spectators might be surprised to see a different Toyota Hilux at the front of the field early on Saturday morning as Chris Visser/Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco Hilux) posted the fastest time after the Qualifying Race. Visser/Herselman had a clean run despite a bit of a scare when they side-swiped a rock bank albeit with no damage.
“It is very tricky and opening the road is never easy,” Visser commented afterwards.
After a disappointing start to the season, the pole position at the TDR 1000 Qualifying Race will be a morale booster for the team who would like nothing better than to continue with good results this weekend in Botswana.
Visser/Herselman will feel the pressure from the start as they will be followed closely by all three the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux teams with four vehicles in the FIA Class posting the fastest times after the Qualifying Race. Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings were the first team to tackle the Qualifying Race in a brand new area in Botswana and they were a mere 13 seconds off the pace of Visser/Herselman despite suffering a puncture. Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy rounded off the podium and trail their team-mates by 38 seconds.
Shameer Variawa/Juan Möhr were scheduled to take on the 60 kilometre race somewhat further down the starting list and experienced heavy dust on the second half of their race. They persevered and posted the fourth fastest time, 38 seconds slower than the 2018 TDR 1000 winners (De Villiers/Murphy).
Behind the four teams in the FIA Class, it was the Ford Castrol Cross Country Ranger in the hands of Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable that were the fastest in Class T. They were only 16 seconds behind Variawa/Möhr after a clean, but a tricky route that included rocks Woolridge described as ‘elephant-sized’. There are only four seconds between the two brothers as their team-mates, Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer finished just behind them, second fastest in Class T.
After not participating in the first two rounds of the season, Jason Venter/Jaco van Aardt (4×4 Mega World ARB Toyota Hilux) made a welcome return to the SACCS by posting the fifth fastest time in the FIA Class, eight seconds slower than the Ford of Woolridge/Dreyer ahead of them. The TDR 1000 started well for Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Elf Renault Duster) who were sixth fastest in the FIA Class and a minute behind Venter/Van Aardt. The Horn brothers, Johan and Werner (Malalane Toyota) were the second vehicle out the starting blocks but were slowed due to their GPS not functioning. They rounded off the Class T podium and will continue the traditional battle with the Woolridge duo.
Gary Bertholdt/Geoff Minnitt (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) were fourth in Class T, just over a minute behind the Horn brothers. Behind them Ernest Roberts/Riaan Greyling (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) got their TDR 1000 off to a good start posting the seventh fastest time in the FIA Class, only three seconds ahead of team-mates, Jaco van Dyk/Michel Rust who are participating in the TDR 1000 for the first time.
The Namibians noted afterwards that the Botswana desert is totally different to the Namibian desert and that the route is tight and twisty.
Schalk Burger and Elvene Vonk (Nissan Navara) were not far off the pace despite a puncture 12 kilometres into the race. Dust and a few wrong slots cost them time and they will be the last team in the FIA Class to start on Saturday.
In Class T, Bertholdt/Minnitt will be followed by Dylan Venter/Donavan Lubbe (4×4 Mega World ARB Toyota Hilux) who were fifth fastest in class; Wors Prinsloo/Kenneth Venter (Ford Ranger) were sixth; TDR newcomers, Theuns Joubert/Henry Köhne (Elf Renault Duster) posted the seventh fastest time in class and Jacques van Tonder/Sammy Redelinghuys (Ford Ranger) were glad to be home after losing time changing a rear tire. Richard Leeke/Danie Stassen (ATS Ford Ranger) could not complete the distance due to a universal joint that broke on the prop shaft about 20 kilometres into the race. They are however planning to start on Saturday morning.
The battle in Class S will be as tight as always in Botswana when David Huddy/Gerhard Schutte (Nissan Navara) and veteran, Jannie Visser, accompanied this time by his youngest son, Pieter (Toyota Hilux) lock horns over a thousand kilometres. Huddy/Schutte were a mere 57 seconds faster than the Visser father son combination and both teams will grit their teeth to the end to claim victory.
The leading team will start the 440 kilometre racing section on Saturday at 08:15 from the Sam Sono stadium in Selebi-Phikwe soccer where the Race Headquarters, the Start/Finish as well as the Designated Service Point will be situated. There numerous spectator points along the route.
Enthusiasts can follow the TDR 1000 on the RallySafe App that can be downloaded for Android and iOS devices.