There is a new kid on the block in South African off-road racing, and Team Castrol Toyota factory driver Mark Cronje faces the stiffest test of a fledgling off-road career in this weekend’s (June 13 and 14) Toyota 1000 Desert Race. -

- Round three of the national series provides Cronje with a pressure cooker situation on three fronts. Firstly, it is only Cronje’s third off-road race and, secondly, he finds himself lying second in both the Production Vehicle drivers championship and in the Class E drivers championship. -

- Coping with those situations would be enough to test the mettle of any rookie in any form of motorsport. Cronje, however, faces intense pressure on a third front in that the race sponsors are his employers – and expectations are going to be high. -

- Cronje’s two previous national off-road outings have seen him and co-driver Chris Birkin pick up top five overall finishes, and a win and a second in Class E in the Castrol Toyota Hilux. Where Cronje is concerned it leaves him trailing Hannes Grobler in the overall drivers championship, and pair of light years apart in terms of experience, and leading former champion Manfred Schroder in the Class E title race. -

- Young Cronje has plenty of experience in other forms of motor racing. He is, of course, the reigning Rotax Max kart world champion, and spent a number of years driving various Toyota machinery on the national saloon car circuit. -

- Off-road racing, however, has been a sudden culture shock for Cronje, and the learning curve will be a little steeper than usual on the bash through Botswana. Cronje, however, is relishing the challenge and facing up to it like a true trouper. -

- “It’s like anything else in motorsport, you just have to go out and get the job done,” said Cronje. “Conditions on the Nissan Sugarbelt were completely different to those on the first event, and now I am going into the unknown again. -

- “I rolled the Hilux on the Sugarbelt, the first time I have ever rolled a vehicle, and it gave me a wake up call. Once again I will be relying heavily on Chris”, and I am lucky to have someone with all his experience sitting next to me. -

- Cronje also admits to being a little worried about the length of the Toyota Desert Race. Circuit racing and karting are both hugely demanding, but ultra long distance racing has also given Cronje much on which to ponder. -

- “The first two events were tough physically and mentally, and then along comes a race like this,” Cronje said. “It is going to be tougher than anything I have ever done, but I am looking forward to the challenge. -

- “I am going to try and put the championship issue behind me, and just concentrate on making it to the finish. -

- Apart from Schroder and Jack Peckham in the Ford Racing Ranger, the Cronje/Birkin combination will also be up against experienced Team Castrol Toyota team-mates Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie. An intriguing battle could develop between the three crews, with the Class E runners again looking to make inroads against more fancied opposition in higher classes and finish in the top 10. -

- Cronje’s kart world championship and his record in saloon cars identify him as an exceptional young talent. Nothing he has done so far in off-road racing strikes a contradictory note, and it could just be that off-road racing has unearthed the next superstar. -

- Cronje may not admit it at this stage of his career, but in off-road racing he could well have found his niche.

Original article from Car