Brian Joss –
The Donaldson Cross Country Championship moves to Botswana this weekend, for the iconic Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race – arguably Southern Africa’s toughest motorsport event. In 2014 Castrol Team Toyota achieved a stunning one-two victory on the two-day event, helping winners Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy to overall victory in the championship, in their Castrol Team Toyota Hilux.
“We are going to the Desert Race to try and do exactly what we did last year,” says Team Principal Glyn Hall. “And with the results we’ve had so far this year, we can’t help but be optimistic. With that said, this is one tough race, and nothing can be taken for granted.”
Castrol Team Toyota got the 2015 season under way with a win on Round 1, the RFS Endurance. Leeroy Poulter recorded his first cross-country victory, though navigator Rob Howie had sprayed sparkling wine from the top step of the podium in the past. Taylor/Murphy finished third on the opening round.
Round 2 was the Sugarbelt 450, which took place in the area around Eston in KwaZulu-Natal. Poulter/Howie made it two wins from two starts, this time with their teammates just seconds behind, in second place.
Now the action moves to Botswana, for the longest and toughest event of the year. The Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race is run over a total of three days, with a prologue of 100 km on the first day. This prologue will determine the starting positions for the main event, which is split over two days comprising 500 km on day one, and 420 km on day two.
The qualifying race gets under way at 11:30 on June 26, while the two race days start at 8.30am on Saturday and Sunday June 27 and 28.
The area around the southern Botswana town of Jwaneng will again play host to the Desert Race, which promises to test the crews and their race machines to the limit.
“For us the Donaldson Cross Country Championship is an integral part of our testing for the Dakar Rally,” continues Hall. “As such the extended distance of the Desert Race is very valuable from a testing point of view – but we are still going there to try and win the race, despite our testing programme.”
Beyond the two factory entries of Castrol Team Toyota, a number of privateers will also be tackling the gruelling event in Toyota Hilux cross country race vehicles. One of the teams to watch is that of the Horn brothers – Johan and Werner – who had a fantastic season in 2014. The pair haven’t quite recaptured the pace they had last year, but have proven to be tough competitors, able to take the fight to the much larger factory teams.
Toyota crews are also competing in Class S, for vehicles with engines up to four liters in capacity, and that sport solid rear axles. Notably defending Class S champions, Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux are returning to the championship for the first time this year, and may just shake things up in the class.
The Desert Race remains one of the greatest motorsport spectacles on the continent.