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Toyota’s year to remember in South African Cross Country series

Toyota’s year to remember in South African Cross Country series
  • Lategan/White take Rookies of the Year award for Ford NWM Puma Lubricants team

This year’s Production Vehicle category in the South African Cross Country Series (SACCs) is a season Toyota will not forget in a hurry.

Apart from annexing all the Production Vehicle titles on offer the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana, the only marathon event on the calendar, was voted Event of the Year at the annual SACCS awards ceremony. Along with the SA Manufacturers’ Championship it saw Toyota sweep just about everything as far as awards were concerned.

The only blot on the copybook of a perfect season was the loss of the Gazoo Racing SA squad’s unbeaten record – dating back to the 2015 season – when Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz finished eighth in the qualifying race at the season ending Atlas Copco Gold 400. De Villiers and regular co-driver Dennis Murphy started the Toyota steamroller moving when they clinched both the Production Vehicle overall and FIA Class championships with an event to spare.

Class T champions Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) also capped a memorable season at the Atlas Copco event when they finished ahead of outgoing champions, Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie, in the overall championship. Poulter and Howie finished third after missing the final two events to enable Poulter to make a full recovery from surgery.

The next three places in the overall stakes all belonged to Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Ranger crews. Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable were fourth with Woolridge’s younger brother Gareth and Boyd Dreyer fifth and Henk Lategan and Barry White sixth.

The Ford NWM Puma Lubricants squad did not leave the awards ceremony empty handed after what was also a standout season for the team. Lategan and White won the Rookies of the Year award, and scored two wins in their debut season with the pair showing plenty of pace and maturity.

Second in the FIA Class, after missing the opening event of the year, were Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson in the Elf Renault Duster. The pair were models of consistency with Poulter/Howie third, and late starters Shameer Variawa and Zaheer Bodhanya fourth in a Red-Lined Nissan Navara.

Class T was always competitive with the Horns and Woolridge/Huxtable the only crews with 100 percent finish records during the season. The Horns won twice and it was not until the second last event – the Sun City 400 – that the Mpumalanga brothers put some daylight between themselves and Woolridge/Huxtable.

The younger Woolridge and Dreyer and Lategan/White finished third and fourth in the title race with outgoing champions Jason Venter and Vince van Allemann (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) in fifth place. While Woolridge/Dreyer were in contention until the Sun City race, Venter and van Allemann made a shaky start to their title defence and will have been disappointed with only two trips to the podium.

Jannie Visser and son Chris (Barberspan Toyota Hilux) took Class S despite a non finish at the Atlas Copco Gold 400  with the North West crew finishing ahead of David Huddy and Gerhard Schutte in the Nissan Navara. The final gap was 10 points and Huddy and Schutte were left wondering what might have been when they failed to see out the distance in the opening event of the season.

Rookies Richard Leeke junior and Henry Kohne were third in the championships and won twice. Their season was littered with too many non-finishes to mount a serious title challenge, although the pair had to be happy with a learning curve that also saw them finish second in the South African rally championship.

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