Castrol Toyota’s Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin made up for a disappointing non-finish on the Absa Off Road Championship season opening Nissan Sugarbelt 400 last month by finishing third overall in the Production Vehicle category and second in Class D in this weekend’s Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape.
The former Class E champions and last year’s Class D championship runner’s up by one point had a clean run in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i but lacked pace against the V6 powered Team Ford Racing Ranger of Manfred Schroder and Alec Harris who finished second overall and first in Class D for the second successive time.
“It was frustrating because I had the measure of Schroder in the tight sections but when it came to the long fast sections and the thick sand the torque of the more powerful 4-litre Ford came into play and I lost any advantage that I might have gained,” said Cronje. “I can’t wait for the launch of the new Super Production Class where all the vehicles will be of similar specification and driver skill and not just vehicle performance will come into play.”
Brother Gavin and multiple co-drivers champion Robin Houghton started 18th in the Class D Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i and steadily moved up the leader board to 15th at the end of lap one, 11th at the end of lap two and 8th overall, fourth in the Production Vehicle category and third in Class D at the finish.
“It was my first visit to the Western Cape and I found the going rather tough,” said Gavin Cronje. “I really enjoyed the fast sections, which must be because I come from a circuit racing background, but the thick sand took its toll on my arms and shoulders.”
“The wipers stopped working and we had to stop frequently to clean the windscreen, which cost us at least five minutes and then, to top it all, we beached the Hilux in the thick sand and had to be towed out by Chris Visser, which cost us another five minutes.”
Privateers Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst performed faultlessly in the Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux 2.7i and finished fifth in the Production Vehicle category and first in Class E ahead of reigning Class E champion Hugo de Bruyn who was forced to drive solo after father Jaap succumbed to food poisoning. De Bruyn started 15th, dropped to 25th after the first lap when the power steering failed, clawed his way back 18th after the second lap and went on to finish 12th overall, sixth in the Production Vehicle category and second in Class E.
Durbanites Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo delivered another consistent performance in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i and finished seventh in the Production Vehicle category and third in Class E.
Husband and wife Marius and Tracey van Vuuren were delayed while waiting for an ambulance and family of Bosal N1 4x4 team-mates father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt who crashed their Class D Toyota Hilux V6 into a tree at high speed. Fortunately there were no serious injuries to the crew with Weichelt senior only having to have some stitches on his leg. The van Vuuren’s went on to finish ninth in the Production Vehicle category and fourth in Class D in their Toyota Hilux 2.7i.
Last year’s Class D winner on the Nissan Dealer 400 Paolo Piazza-Musso and Ockie Fourie started 19th in the Class D Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i and had moved up to 15th at the 145km mark when the gearbox failed and forced them into retirement.
“I am happy with the team’s performance here in the Western Cape especially as we scooped six of the top ten placings in the Production Vehicle category,” said Toyota Motorsport manager, Wammy Haddad. “All Mark needed was a little more torque and he would have been able to put Schroder under real pressure.”
Original article from Car