Jwaneng, Botswana - Reigning South African champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy led a Toyota 1-2-3 on the Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, Round 4 of the SA Cross Country championship.
Taylor and Murphy finished 32 seconds clear of Hilux team-mates Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie, with Johan and Werner Horn in their privateer Hilux continuing their dream start to their premier Class T career with their third podium place in three races. The Horn brothers were about 10 minutes behind Poulter and Howie, but never dropped out of the top three throughout the only marathon event on the Cross Country calendar.
Taylor and Murphy's win - their second in a row in Botswana - also took them to the top of the Production Vehicle championship. The race counted for double points with Taylor and Murphy moving clear of Ford Racing crew Manfred Schroder and Japie Badenhorst; the two crews had been tied at the top of the ladder going into the Desert Race.
"It was just about the perfect weekend," said Taylor. "We had no major issues but there is always a little extra pressure on the factory team on the Desert Race.
"A clean sweep was reward for plenty of hard work from the whole team."
The Ford Racing Ranger teams of Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau and Manfred Schroder and Japie Badenhorst rounded out the top five, with a bonus for Bertholdt and Rousseau, who won the Dakar Challenge to win a free entry to the 2015 Dakar Rally in South America.
After a five minute penalty on racing section one dropped them from fourth to seventh, Schroder and Badenhorst fought back to claim a top five finish for some championship damage control.
There was also a good fight back from Brazilian pair Reinaldo Varela and Gustavo Gugelmin in a third Castrol Toyota Hilux. After winning the prologue to determine grid positions they hit a tree on racing section one, and dropped to 10th at the overnight halt.
They gradually fought their way through the field on Day 2 to finish sixth ahead of Class S winners Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (Toyota Hilux). The former South African champions revelled in the conditions and finished well clear of Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger (BMW X3) and Terence Marsh and Springbok rugby legend Stefan Terblanche in a Nissan Navara.
Ford Ranger crew Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling completed the top 10 and were second in Class S ahead of Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in their Toyota Hilux. It was a brave fight back from Venter and Palmer after racing section one woes, but the result saw them surrender the Class S championship lead back to the ever-consistent De Bruin and Greyling.
The new Class G category was competing in a Desert Race for the first time, with a comfortable victory going to Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer in a Polaris. They were well clear of Daniel van Rooyen and Thys Greyvensteyn, in another Polaris, with Leander Pienaar and Jaco Swart filling the podium positions in a Can-Am Maverick.
The Desert Race invariably produces a sting in the tail, but nobody was ready for the high drama that surrounded the finish of the Special Vehicle category.
History, with a little twist, repeated itself with Wichard and Hermann Sullwald, in their Stryker, winning the only marathon event on the calendar for the second year in a row - only this time it was Wichard doing the driving with father Hermann navigating in a race that counts double championship points.
There was, however, a dollop of fortune involved in a win that brings the Sullwald crew solidly back into the championship picture, just as it did last year.
Lady Luck played a cruel trick on reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen, who started the final 225km loop in second, 1m46s behind the BAT of Quintin and Kallie Sullwald.
When the Sullwalds ran into trouble Hutchison and Stassen moved into the lead and looked certain to revive their back-to-back championship hopes, when their BAT caught fire two kilometres from the finish.
"What can I say, I'm devastated," said Hutchison.
“This certainly hasn't been our year."
The final 450 kilometre racing section wreaked havoc among the Special Vehicles and only five cars - three of them Class P entries - made it to the finish. In a dream result KwaZulu-Natal pair Arthur Barnes and Anthony Usher, in a BAT, finished second in their Desert Race debut and also leaped up the championship ladder.
Another KwaZulu-Natal crew, James Watson and John Thompson, in a BAT, completed the podium and clinched Class P after problems struck Colin Matthews and Rodney Burke (Century Racing CR3) and reigning champions John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten in a Zarco, lat in the race.
In their best career finishes yeat Keith Makenete abd Moaliso Borotho (Zarco) and Sean Reitz and Michael Abramson (Jimco) completed the top five and were the last of the finishers.