Brian Joss –
Defending Donaldson Cross-Country champions, Castrol Team Toyota’s Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy, are fully prepared to tackle the 2015 season. The pair have tested the new specification Toyota Hilux race vehicle, which is based on the vehicle that saw Giniel de Villiers and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz finish second in this year’s grueling Dakar Rally, in preparation for the new year.
“We can’t wait for the season to start,” says Anthony Taylor. “The off-season has felt very long, especially while sitting at home, watching our cars compete on the Dakar.”
Current South African National Rally champion Leeroy Poulter will again partner Taylor/Murphy, with navigator Rob Howie beside him in the second Toyota Hilux. Poulter completed his first full season in the Donaldson Cross-Country Championship last year, and finished a credible fourth in the overall standings. He also competed in this year’s Dakar Rally, finishing 16th, and gaining invaluable time behind the wheel of the latest spec Toyota Hilux.
“We are very excited to be fielding the latest evolution of our Toyota Hilux this year,” says team principal Glyn Hall. “We ran the cars on the last race of the 2014 season, but we’ve done a lot of development since then, and made a number of small tweaks that will make the cars more suitable for local conditions.”
With more than 9 500 km of real-world testing on the Dakar Rally under their belts, together with a mass of testing done before the race, the team is confident of their chances in the 2015 Donaldson Cross-Country Championship, despite some challenging changes to the scoring and make-up of the series.
The new-look championship comprises six rounds (two fewer than in the past), including sprint races of 450 km, endurance races that are between 650 and 700 km in length, and the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, as the lone marathon event on the calendar.
A change in the points structure sees race winners now bagging 30 points a race, though the requirement to drop the points from one race during the year has been scrapped, which means that consistent performances throughout the year will be key.
“We are fortunate that our Toyota Hilux has one of the best reliability track records in the field,” says Hall. “This year, more than ever, reliability will be as important as speed. We believe we have the right car to do the job, together with the right crews to get us to the end of each race.”
The season starts with the RFS Endurance in Harrismith, on March 27 and 28. The event will be run over a race distance close to 700 km, including a qualifying loop of 196 km and two race laps of 251 km.
The route features mostly virgin territory, as only about 50 km of the race is carried over from last year. As such the RFS Endurance will offer a stern test to all the crews, especially as it is run over such a long distance.
Highlights of the new-look route include a run down the old Qwa Qwa road past the Sterkfontein Dam, but starts and ends the La La Nathi resort after each loop.