There was jubilation in the Atlas Copco SA camp on the third and final day of the Toyota Desert Race 1000, the third round of the South African National Cross Country Series (SACCS) that took place on 21, 22 and 23 June at Selebi-Phikwe in Botswana, when Chris Visser and Philip Herselman claimed the overall victory after three tough days and almost a thousand kilometres of racing.
An extremely tight route, all new racing terrain, treacherous dust, trees and rocks combined with pressure for that elusive win of the popular TDR 1000 all added up to make this year’s event one for the record books. In the Production Vehicle category, mere seconds separated the teams and things happened with the blink of an eye. There was just so much at stake and with no margin for error and double points up for grabs during the weekend, the pressure was immense.
Winning the TDR 1000 could, however, not come at a better time for Atlas Copco SA veterans Visser and Herselman who had a dismal start to the 2019 SACCS season. They made up for it by posting the fastest time after the 66km Qualifying Race on Friday, 21 June and finished the second day Saturday, 22 June as the runners-up. On the last and final day, 378 kilometres awaited the teams and when it all counted, Visser/Herselman kept it together to take the victory which was a first for Herselman, Visser has won in Botswana before. They also won the FIA Class, a fitting result of a successful racing career for Herselman who enjoyed a final stint in the navigator seat as he is relocating to Singapore in July.
It was not the most memorable weekend for the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux team. Although all three teams made it to the finish and scored valuable points towards the championship titles, it was Shameer Variawa/Juan Möhr who represented the team on the podium. It was disappointment for both Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings and the 2018 winners, Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy. Variawa/Möhr, who both have a few desert races in Botswana behind their names, made it stick and finished as the runners-up despite having to change a flat tyre themselves. They were seven minutes and six seconds behind Visser/Herselman after almost 12 hours of racing.
“It has been the tightest desert race in Botswana I have ever experienced in my 20 years of competition,” navigator Juan Möhr said afterwards.
There were wide smiles in the Ford camp as the defending Class T champions, Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable (Ford Castrol Cross Country Ranger) rounded off the overall podium and claimed the Class T victory. Woolridge/Huxtable were the leading Class T vehicle after the Qualifying Race while they also won the class on the second day with a third class victory and finishing on the overall podium on the final day, added to that overall victory for Heat Two is just what the doctor ordered.
Behind them Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Elf Renault Duster) could almost see an overall podium result, but they were happy with their fourth place, one minute and 53 seconds behind Woolridge/Huxtable. They did claim the third place on the FIA Class podium. The overall top five was rounded off by Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (Ford Castrol Cross Country Ranger) whose view was impaired as the windscreen was shattered during the first half of the race. They were delighted with their second place in the Class T championship.
There was more than one reason for celebration for the Namibians, Jaco van Dyk and Michel Rust (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) who not only finished their first TDR 1000 attempt and claimed sixth place overall, but they also won the Road to Dakar Challenge and a free entry into the Dakar Rally. The team were followed home by Jacques van Tonder/Sammy Redelinghuys (Ford Ranger) who rounded off the Class T podium.
Schalk Burger/Elvene Vonk, who also aimed for the Road to Dakar win, claimed eighth place overall in the Production Vehicle category after a slow start to the race on Friday when they finished way down in the field after the Qualifying Race. They managed to work their way up and scored the fifth place in the FIA Class.
Fighting the dust and keeping it together meant the Class S victory for David Huddy/Gerhard Schutte (Nissan Navara) who finished ninth overall with Jannie and son, Pieter (Toyota Hilux) rounding off the overall top ten in the Production Vehicle category and finishing second in Class S.
Racing in the middle order is not something the defending champions, De Villiers/Murphy are used to, but after disaster struck on Saturday when a tree stump damaged their Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux, there was not enough time and space for the team to work themselves up into the top 10 again. After a difficult and frustrating final day in the field, they had to settle for the 11th place overall.
Like De Villiers/Murphy, the Horn brothers, Johan and Werner (Malalane Toyota Hilux) also suffered mechanical issues early on Saturday that dropped them way down the order. They started the day as backmarkers but kept it safe to finish 12th overall, a mere 11 seconds behind De Villiers/Murphy after a total of 13 and a half hours in the cockpits.
Dylan Venter/Donavan Lubbe (4x4 Mega World ARB Toyota Hilux) made it home in 13th place. They were followed by an unlucky Lategan/Cummings, for whom a victory evaded yet again. After winning the racing section on Saturday, Lategan/Cummings were leading the field on the final day, but then they suffered a flat tyre early in the race. They then lost even more time changing the second flat tyre as they stopped in a difficult spot to do so. This resulted in them slotting in just behind Visser/Herselman and having to deal with the dust, they picked up yet another flat tyre.
Now without a spare tyre, they waited for team-mates Variawa/Möhr who kindly gave them a wheel. They then got back into the field behind their team-mates and in the dust, they missed a corner and ended in the bush where a sawn-off tree damaged the front wheel, suspension and steering rack. They were forced to do bush repairs - an hour and 20 minutes later they were back on the road and limped home where the team did their best to get them race-ready for the last of the 180 odd kilometre loop. his resulted in them finishing 14th in the Production Vehicle category.
Rally driver Theuns Joubert and Henry Kohne (Elf Renault Duster) completed their first Toyota Desert Race 1000 successfully and were the 15th team home.
Wors Prinsloo/Kenneth Venter (Ford Ranger), Jason Venter/Jaco van Aardt (4x4 Mega World ARB Toyota Hilux) and Ernest Roberts/Riaan Greyling (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) all scored points towards the championships during the course of the TDR 1000, but could not complete the full race distance while Richard Leeke/Danie Stassen (Ford Ranger) only completed the Qualifying Race on Friday.
Ford also claimed the Manufacturer’s Award.