With four straight cross-country victories to his name, as well as five consecutive rally victories, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Leeroy Poulter will head to the Lowveld town of Malalane this weekend, with the aim of preserving his unbeaten record for 2016.
Brian Joss – The team, supported by Total Quartz, will again field two Toyota Hilux race vehicles in Class FIA, with the second vehicle crewed by former champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy. But even though Poulter and navigator Rob Howie are sitting pretty at the top of the championship standings, they’ll certainly be feeling the pressure on the Nkomazi 450.
“There’s no doubt that Leeroy and Rob could win every race this year,” says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “But our policy has always been to take it one race at a time. We’ve just got to focus on the weekend ahead, and do the best we can.”
Hall’s pragmatic outlook may be part of the reason for the team’s undeniable success this year. The two FIA-spec Toyota Hilux race vehicles are almost identical to the vehicles they campaign on Dakar, and have recently been in the international spotlight thanks to Nasser Al-Attiyah and navigator Mattieu Baumel’s victories on the FIA’s Cross-Country World Cup.
On home soil, however, Poulter/Howie currently lead teammates Taylor/Murphy by 40 points in the production category, and with three races to go in the seven-round championship, it seems that Taylor/Murphy are the only competitors with a mathematical chance of catching the flying Poulter/Howie pairing.
Behind the two Class FIA vehicles, the battle for Class T honours rages on. 4×4 Mega World’s Jason Venter and navigator Vince van Alleman currently lead the championship in their Toyota Hilux, but their lead is a slender eight points – and former champion Chris Visser (Ford) will be on the hunt in Malalane.
Local lads, Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux), will also be competing on the Nkomazi 450, which is their home event. The pair showed impressive pace in the last two seasons, but haven’t been able to replicate their race-winning performances this year. However, they’ll be aiming for a strong finish in front of their home crowd.
Class S has turned into an all-Toyota affair, with defending champions Heinie Strumpher and navigator Henri Hugo (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) failing to score points during the previous round. This has opened the door for Otto Graven and Bobby Brewis (Graven Motorsport Toyota Hilux) to take the lead of the championship – but the nine-point margin is slim, with three rounds to go. Jannie Visser and son Chris are also still in the running, in their Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux, so the fight on the Nkomazi 450 promises to be a spectacular one.