Toyota scored two class wins in the Production Vehicle category, with the jewel in the crown Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2,7i in Class D. The pair, former Class E champions, finished second overall and first in class on what turned out to be a gruelling event.
Toyota’s other success came in Class E via Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in the Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux 2,7i.
After a disappointing season marred by mechanical niggles, everything finally fell into place for Cronje and Birkin. The pair had a clear run and, after starting ninth on the road, came home nine minutes ahead of third placed Arnold du Plessis and John Knox in the BB Auto Nissan Hardbody – a result that lifts Cronje and Birkin into fourth place in the Class D championship.
“The technical crew have done a great job in curing the gearbox problems we have encountered all season,” said Cronje. “I wasn’t happy with our performance after ninth place in Friday’s prologue, but everything went like clockwork in the race.
“This was a real morale booster, and Chris and I are now really looking forward to the second half of the season.”
Matters did not go all that well for Gavin Cronje, the younger of the Cronje brothers, and multiple SA champion Robin Houghton, and Paolo Piazza-Musso and Ockie Fourie in the other Castrol Toyota Hilux entries in Class D. Despite trials and tribulations, however, both crews finished and Cronje and Houghton retain second place in the Class D championship.
Starting well down the field after an excursion into a ditch in Friday’s prologue, damaging the front suspension, Cronje and Houghton ran into a steering problem on lap one of the three-lap race. It cost them valuable time, but they stuck to the task and finished seventh overall and fourth in Class D.
“It was all a bit frustrating because we felt we could catch the crews ahead of us after the prologue,” said Cronje. “The points we scored keep us in the championship hunt, so there was a positive spin-off to the weekend.”
Piazza-Musso and Fourie ran out of brakes on lap one, and then gearbox failure on lap three left them with first and fifth gear only. To compound their problems they also had a fuel pump failure, but managed to limp home 8th in Class D.
For Class E championship leaders Zane Pearce and Brian Martin the event turned into a nightmare – but the crew maintained their record of finishing every race so far this season. The pair started near the back of the field after drive shaft failure in the prologue, and were to run into similar problems in the race.
Two more broken drive shafts, along with a puncture, saw the pair struggling. Reduced to two-wheel drive only, the pair then got stuck in a riverbed but perseverance paid off and they finished a credible 2nd in Class E.
“It was a character building weekend,” was Martin’s wry comment. “Despite all the problems we were determined to finish, but it was a bit of a sweat.”
It was also a weekend to forget for the father and son team of Jaap and Hugo de Bruyn. They were plagued with power steering problems throughout the prologue and the race, and were eventually forced to call it a day.
“We had our ups and downs in the prologue and in the race, but two class wins was a good return for us,” said Toyota Motorsport manager Whammy Haddad. “It was good to see Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin back to their best, and all the other crews showed tremendous character and fighting spirit.”
Original article from Car