The Carnival City 400 on the East Rand over the weekend, the final round of this year's Absa SA Off-Road Championship, provided Team Castrol Toyota pair Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin with the perfect end to the perfect season. -

- Cronje, in his first season of off-road racing, and the experienced Birkin, once again out in the Team Castrol Toyota Hilux, finished second overall in the Production Vehicle category, and scored their sixth Class E victory in eight outings this season. The result also saw the Class E champions finish second overall to Nissan veterans Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke in the Production Vehicle drivers and navigators championships. -

- "The only way to beat this result would have been for us to win the Production Vehicle category," said Cronje. That was out of the Team Castrol Toyota pair's reach with victory going to the Ford Racing Ranger, running in Class T, driven by Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer which ended a run of 14 successive Nissan wins. Once again, however, Cronje and Birkin had the distinction of beating everyone but Class T Supertruck runners. -

- "It was a tough event and this time we had a little luck on our side," said Cronje. On the second of the three 140 kilometre loops the front differential broke, leaving the Castrol Toyota Hilux with rearwheel drive only. -

- Then halfway through the final loop Cronje and Birkin lost third gear. With a 100 percent finish record to protect, Cronje had his doubts about making it to the finish. -

- "I honestly didn't think we'd see it out to the finish," Cronje said. "Chris and I were also expecting to see other competitors whizzing past us. All we did was nurse the vehicle along to the finish, and I was a little surprised no one overtook us. In the end it was a great result for us, but then it has been a great season. -

- "Having Chris and all his experience alongside me was a huge bonus, and Mark Jordaan and the rest of the Toyota Motorsport technical team did a magic job of preparing vehicle. The fact that we had a 100 percent finish record is proof of that." -

- Cronje's performances in his first season of off-road speak for themselves, and earmark him as one of the most talented young drivers around at the moment. The fact that he is also the reigning Rotax Max kart world champion and has a good pedigree in saloon car racing, also earmark him a a highly versatile performer. -

- With a tough season of off-road behind him, Cronje is now ready to concentrate on retaining his Rotax world title in Egypt at the end of January next year. As the reigning champion Cronje has automatic entry into the finals, and aims at bringing the title back to South Africa for the fourth year in a row. -

- 2003 has turned into a dream season for the Roodepoort driver - and could turn out to be the springboard for a bright future.

Original article from Car