Team Castrol Toyota's rising star, Mark Cronje, pulled another great result out of the hat when he finished third overall in the Production vehicle category, and won Class E on the gruelling Toyota 1000 Desert Race which ended in Gaborone, in Botswana, over the weekend. -

- In three starts in his first season in the national off-road championship, Cronje has now chalked up three top five finishes and has picked up two Class E wins and a second place in the Team Castrol Toyota Hilux. Cronje and veteran co-driver Chris Birkin comfortably lead the Class E championship, and are second to the hugely experienced Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke, who won the Botswana bash in a Nissan Hardbody running in the premier Class T category, in the overall drivers and co-drivers championships. -

- In what was a phenomenal performance in a Class E vehicle, the Cronje/Birkin combination were beaten only by Grobler/Leeke and Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan, with both crews out in the Nissan Super Trucks. Cronje, the reigning Rotax Max Kart world champion and former factory Toyota saloon car driver, has suddenly emerged as a star of the future in off-road racing, and is very much the new kid on the block. -

- "The Desert Race was the toughest event in which I have ever competed, and I am surprised and delighted at the result we came up with," said Cronje. "Before the event I would have paid money for a top three finish and a class win. -

- "In the end we had a relatively easy run. The Hilux and Chris and I took a pounding, but the only problems we came up with were a couple of punctures. The two Nissans were far too quick for us, but Chris and I stuck to a game plan that was aimed at just reaching the finish, and everything else took care of itself." -

- Up until this season Cronje had never raced anything other than karts and saloon cars, and off-road racing promised a steep learning curve. The 25-year-old from Roodepoort, however, has taken to the rigours of off-road racing like a duck to water, and appears to have a new niche for himself. -

- "Off-road is a lot tougher than I ever imagined it would be, but I have been lucky in having someone as experienced as Chris sitting alongside me," said Cronje. "We work well together, and hopefully we can keep the momentum going over the rest of the season. -

- "I am enjoying myself, and would love to do this sort of thing at international level. We'll just have to wait and see what happens." -

- For the moment, however, Cronje is the jewel in the Team Castrol Toyota off-road crown, and is very much the man of the moment in this year's championship.

Original article from Car