The 2003 Toyota 1000 Desert Race finished in Gaborone, Botswana, today (Sunday, June 15), after an eventful two days of racing through the Kalahari Desert. Of the full field of 75 production and special vehicles started the event on the outskirts of Gaborone on Saturday, only 35 would make it through to the start on day two and only two out of three of those would make it back to Gaborone. -

- The early stages of the event delivered the expected tight tussle between Toyota and Nissan in the production vehicle category with Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton relentlessly chasing down the Nissan Hard Bodies of Giniel de Villiers/Francois Jordaan, and Hannes Grobler/Richard Leeke. After closing within minutes of the Nissans, the Toyota pair suffered the heartbreak of losing over an hour and a half as the service crew rebuilt the front end of the Land Cruiser at the first service point 250 kilometres into the race. -

- The Toyota pair had set themselves to pass one of the special vehicles but found when the dust cleared that they were heading straight into a group of three very substantial trees. The force of the contact was sufficient to virtually destroy the front end of the vehicle including the reinforced front axle. The desperate chase by the Toyota pair over the next 400 was a feature of the race but it all came to naught when they were forced to retire just short of the service point on day two when the vehicle succumbed to an accumulation of damage. This was disappointment came when the Toyota pair had fought their way right back to the top three in the production vehicle category. -

- At the front of the field Giniel De Villiers, the leader from the start, suffered a huge accident when they collided with a local vehicle going the wrong way down the route. The near head on collision with the Nissan crew braking fiercely from nearly 180 km/h fortunately did not result in any serious injuries but did cost the Nissan pair nearly two hours of lost time repairing the vehicle – enough to nullify the Paris Dakar specification vehicle’s lead and drop them back to fifth in the production class. -

- By the finish they had made a dramatic fight back to second overall an hour and sixteen minutes behind winners and team-mates Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke in a similar Nissan Hard Body. -

- Off-Road newcomer, Mark Cronje paired with Chris Birken, put up an impressive performance in a Toyota Hilux 2700i to dominate the four-cylinder 4X4 production vehicle class (Class E) and finish a fine third overall in the production vehicle field. Cronje had a near faultless run – just one puncture caused a minor delay – to surprise a number of more seasoned competitors. Only one of the special vehicles was able to come between him in the near standard Toyota and Nissan Dakar type cars. -

- The special vehicle class was won by John Weir Smith and Geoff Minnitt (O’Hagan’s Kopanong Hotel Super Team Jimco). They were followed home by John Moore and Fred Werner in their Connix Chenowth. Despite being given a 30 minute penalty for not stopping at road crossings this pair were still able to finish ahead of Francois Smit in a Sandmaster, albeit by just minutes after the 1000 kilometres of racing. -

- Seasoned Desert Race competitor and multiple winner of the desert classic on two wheels, Alfie Cox, started the event strongly but was forced to carry on without a navigator after the first service point when Mike Griffiths fell ill. Cox fared was fighting back from an engine problem with his Nissan Hardbody during the event prologue and made it through the first day moving up the field but retired early on the second 500 kilometre leg back to Gaborone. -

- Commenting on the route Clerk of the Course, Peter Mounsear-Wilson said: “We featured large sections of new route this year. Our objective was to avoid the long very high-speed straight sections of past years and make the event more interesting for competitors. From the response we have had it seems that this formula worked well. We were also able to make the event more spectator friendly and this was appreciated by thousands of locals fans who turned out to watch the event over the three days.”

Original article from Car