A blistering performance from yet another circuit racing star turned off-road competitor saw Toyota newcomer Mark Cronjé kicking dust and stones in the face of the competition. Making his debut appearance in the first off-road race of the season, the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape, the young Castrol Hilux driver also took the honours in his class with a brilliant third position overall (production vehicles) and class win. -

- More good news for Toyota Motorsport was the well-deserved and hard-fought second position overall of Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton in the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser 4,5 EFi who overcame the odds as the only Toyota entry in Class T, overshadowed by three Nissan Hardbody entries. Reyneke and Houghton suffered an early puncture costing them more than six minutes which theoretically would have put them ahead of race winners Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke (Nissan Hardbody) who crossed the finishing line just three minutes ahead of the Land Cruiser team. -

- Thanks to the efforts of Cronjé and his team-mates, Toyota emerged as the winner of the coveted Manufacturer’s Prize in the Nissan Dealer 400 Off-Road, opening round of the 2003 national off-road championship, held in the Western Cape town of Darling on Saturday (March 22, 2003). -

- Cronjé, who started the 2003 motor sport season by winning the karting world championship held in South Africa, took to off-road racing like the proverbial duck to water, winning Class E for near-standard four-cylinder vehicles a mere 29 seconds ahead of Castrol Toyota Motorsport team-mates Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie. -

- Driving a brand-new Toyota Hilux 2700i, Cronjé and navigator Chris Birkin had the edge over Coetzee/Fourie in their diesel-powered Hilux as well as the rest of the strong Class E field, including 2002 champion Hugo de Bruyn with new navigator Stefan Eloff (Toyota Hilux) who failed to finish the event, and the strong works entry from Team Ford Racing, Manfred Schröder and Jack Peckham (Ford Ranger 2,5TD 4x4 Double Cab) who managed fourth in the class after suffering a blocked fuel filter. -

- Nissan privateers Neels and Zelda van der Walt (Hardbody 3,0 diesel) were third in Class E. -

- Retirements watered down the entry of only 42 cars in this first ever national off-road race in the Western Cape with Dakar hero Giniel de Villiers (Nissan Hardbody) the first of many casualties. -

- A broken bolt in the rear suspension of the Hardbody brought a late end to the challenge of De Villiers and navigator Francois Jordaan, with mechanical problems also forcing out the new Class T entry of defending production vehicle champions Duncan Vos and Mike Griffith (Nissan Hardbody). -

- Another Dakar hero, multiple off-road motorcycle champion Alfie Cox who made his four-wheel debut with the help of experienced navigator Hennie ter Steege in a Class D Nissan Hardbody, dropped out of contention a mere 8 km from the finish when the clutch failed shortly after they got stuck in thick sand. -

- Toyota Class D privateers Piet Haasbroek and Freddie Scheepers looked set to take class honours earlier on, but lost four-wheel drive and later also the use of the front diff just 20 km from the finish. -

- “It was a very successful event for us, especially seen in the light of the strong competition with a myriad of Nissan entries,” said Toyota Motorsport Manager Wammy Haddad. -

- “Mark’s performance was nothing but brilliant – much better than we expected. He might have finished very high up because of the demise of many other competitors, but look at his performance – only 44 minutes behind Apie, and that in a much slower Class E vehicle,” he said. -

- Atang Makgakgenene and Mike Stangl in a Jimco won the Special Vehicle Category. Top 10 results (production vehicles): -

- Hannes Grobler/Richard Leeke (Nissan Motorsport Hardbody; 1st Class T) -

- Apie Reyneke/Robin Houghton (Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser; 2nd Class T) -

- Mark Cronjé/Chris Birkin (Castrol Toyota Hilux 2700I; 1st Class E) -

- Kassie Coetzee/Ockie Fourie (Castrol Toyota Hilux 3000D; 2nd Class E) -

- Johan & Marthinus van der Merwe (Colt Rodeo; 1st Class D) -

- Scott Abraham/Richard Carolin (Jeep Cherokee; 3rd Class T) -

- JP and Linda Augustin (Nissan Hardbody; 2nd Class D) -

- Neels and Zelda van der Walt (Nissan Hardbody; 3rd Class E) -

- Coetzee Labuschagne/Johan Gerber (Nissan Hardbody; 3rd Class D) -

- Hein Grobler/Gerhard Prinsloo (Nissan Hardbody; 4th Class D)

Original article from Car