The first cold front of winter 2017 did nothing to dampen the spirits of the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team, despite temperatures plummeting, the heavens opening, and Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy rolling their Toyota Hilux, powered by Total Quartz, during the qualifying race of the Battlefields 400.
Brian Joss – As round 2 of the 2017 South African Cross Country Series (SACCS), this event featured new entries in Class FIA, though Leeroy Poulter and navigator Rob Howie dominated the event to retain their impressive unbeaten record.
The weekend started as a mixed bag for the team, as Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie won the qualifying race, held on Friday May 12. This, despite the weather deteriorating before their run, forcing Poulter/Howie, as well as the other cars in Class FIA, to brave the 49km-long qualifying stage in freezing cold and pouring rain.
“We always knew it was going to be slippery,” said Poulter, after parking his Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux at the end of the qualifier. “But we had no idea that we were going to be racing in incessant rain. It turned a tough route into a real challenge.”
The slippery conditions did catch out De Villiers and Murphy, however, as the pair ran wide in a fast corner near the end of the qualifying race. “The stage was so wet that we often ran slightly wide. This specific corner, however, had a big hole on the exit. We dipped into the hole, and the car overturned. There wasn’t much damage, but we lost quite a bit of time as a result.”
De Villiers and Murphy eventually got going again, but had to start the main event from 27th place. This meant the former Dakar winner (2009) had a mountain to climb on Saturday’s race – but he was certainly up to the task at hand.
“We were very pleased with Giniel and Dennis’ performance on Saturday,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, from the chilly DSP at the Battlefields Lodge near Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal. “The lads passed many competitors during the day, scything their way up into second position overall by the time they crossed the finish line. A simply stunning performance.”
While De Villiers and Murphy showed their mettle from the back of the field, Poulter/Howie completed another flag-to-flag victory, winning the Battlefields 400 in emphatic style. The pair fought off a phalanx of Class FIA challengers, setting the pace from the get-go, powering their way to their 10th consecutive cross country victory.
“Leeroy and Rob did a sterling job,” continued Hall. “They were on it from the moment the flag dropped for qualifying, and performed beyond expectations given the extremely slippery conditions. They also opened the road for the main event, but managed to maintain their lead throughout the race. Simply excellent.”
Poulter and Howie comfortably top the standings in the 2017 SACCS after two rounds, but with the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1,000 Desert Race up next, they have an opportunity to cement this position. The Desert, as it is also known, has traditionally proven pivotal in the championship race – thanks mainly to the double points haul on offer for the marathon event.
This year’s Desert Race takes place at the end of June, in the area around the southern Botswana town of Jwaneng. Three more races make up the remainder of the season, which also serves as a test platform for the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Dakar programme.