Toyota factory crew Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy tightened their hold on the SA Production Vehicle Cross country championship when they romped to victory in the Vryburg 400, round six of the series, at the weekend.
Their rollercoaster ride continued with a fourth consecutive win after successes on the Sugarbelt 400, the Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race and the Sun City 400, stretching their championship lead to 20 points over the Ford Racing pair of Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, with two races remaining.
A difficult weekend saw Visser and Badenhorst fight back from seventh at the halfway stage to finish third behind the second works Hilux of reigning champions Duncan Vos and Rob Howie. It was the Ford crew’s sixth podium finish of the season and with 25 points on offer for race wins, they still have the ability to make life uncomfortable for Taylor and Murphy.
Taylor said at the end: “It was a difficult race in difficult conditions on a very tricky route, a nightmare for the navigators - Dennis did a great job.
“It was very easy to make expensive mistakes and on the final loop all we concentrated on was staying on the road and staying out of trouble.”
Vos and Howie secured their second consecutive runner-up result and, from a team point of view, did more than did their job running interference for Taylor and Murphy, keeping a comfortable buffer between Vos and Howie, and Visser and Badenhorst - who lost time on the first of the two loops with a differential problem.
“We seemed to run into one problem after another.”
“It was a tough weekend,” admitted Badenhorst. “We’re still in the championship fight but dropping 10 points was not what we wanted at this stage of the season.”
The Visser/Badenhorst charge saw them finish 37 seconds ahead of local Hilux crew Hugo de Bruyn and Henri Hugo, who enjoyed a clean run and came in ahead of a number of SP Class, notably relegating the potent Nissan Navara of Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson to fifth.
Slotting in behind the Navara were Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau in a another Navara, Ford Ranger crews Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling, and Graham and Trevor Leith, and former champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux in their Toyota Hilux. A little further off the pace, but rounding out the top 10 were Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren (BMW X3) who enjoyed a good run after starting from the back of the field.
Brothers Johan and Werner Horn, in a Toyota Land Cruiser, scored their second consecutive win, an encouraging result after an up-and-down season marred by three DNF’s.
The Mpumalanga crew had a little more than 15 minutes in hand over Jason Venter and Vincent van Allemann’s Toyota Hilux; Venter and van Allemann faced an uphill battle after qualifying problems but retained their Class D points lead.
Another win for Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens, in a Ford Ranger, almost certainly guarantees them back-to-back Class E titles; pace and reliability are a hard combination to beat in cross-country racing, and Putter and Claasens have demonstrated both to dominate the category over the past two seasons.
KwaZulu-Natal crew Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell took over top spot in the Special Vehicle championship when they finished third in Vryburg. The Porter crew trailed in behind race winners Quintin and Kallie Sullwald (BAT Venom) and veteran Nardus Alberts and son Louis in their BAT but, with Hermann and Wichard Sullwald (Stryker) and reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen (BAT Viper) failing to finish, Gibson and Campbell jumped to the top of the points table.
Race winners Quintin and Kallie Sullwald also became championship contenders, with unofficial scoring putting them in joint third; Gibson and Campbell lead Hermann and Wichard Sullwald by 3.5 points with Hutchison and Stassen, and Quinton and Kallie Sullwald level, a further 9.5 points in arrears.
It was Quintin Sullwald’s first win as a driver, sending the anoraks to the record books to find previous competitors who had won races as drivers and navigators; bothv father and sonjoined this elite group at Vryburg as Sullwald senior already had tweo previous titles to his credit as a driver with Quintin in the hot seat.
“I knew if I was patient the win would come,” said Quintin with a huge grin. “We had a bit of a scare on the second loop when we lost third gear, but it worked out OK.”
Veteran Alberts, more than 60 years old, was one of the few competitors who revelled in the hot, flat and dusty conditions that saw cross-country racing return to the Vryburg area for the first time in more than 20 years. The Alberts family crew started the day sixth among the Special Vehicles and a consistent drive saw them ease their way up the leader board to record their best finish of the season.
“Although dust was a problem this was my kind of race,” said a delighted Alberts. “Louis did a first-class job, the car was good and we enjoyed ourselves.”
The Gibsons came home about 14 minutes adrift of the Alberts pair, becoming the only Special Vehicle crew to have finished every race so far this season. They won the Magalies 400 at the start of the season, and consistency has kept them in the championship picture ever since.
Fourth and fifth went to brothers Daniel and Louw Zeelie (Porter) and Free State crew Pieter Ruthven and Hansie Rheeder in a BAT, who were rewarded for steady if unspectacular performances.
By contrast, Colin Matthews and Julien Hardy (CR3) put in a spectacular charge to claim Class P, starting from the back of the grid after problems in the prologue and slicing their way through the field to finish sixth overall, ahead of John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten (Zarco Magnum), who nevertheless stayed at the top of the Class P championship.
It was a brave performance from Thompson, who was suffering from food poisoning and spent two hours on a drip in hospital after the prologue.
The Swaziland-based driver explained: “I was suffering but I was determined to finish - we need every point we can get.”
Third in Class P went to another veteran crew - Rob Wark, a former Desert Race winner, and Ashley Thorn - who also started from the back of the grid after their Aceco K9 caught fire during the prologue.