Two wins from two starts for TGRSA at SARRC rounds 4 and 5

The Parys 400 featured two consecutive rounds of the 2023 South African Rally-Raid Championships (SARRC), run in a double-header format, with Round 4 taking place on Friday, 18 August; and Round 5 following on the Saturday.

Both rounds comprised full qualifying races, as well as two race loops of roughly 170km each. The two rounds featured largely independent routes, but the dry, dusty terrain of the end-of-winter Free State was a common feature.

It was against this backdrop that TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s (TGRSA) squad of four Toyota Hilux T1+ crews set about the business of winning races, with Henk Lategan and co-driver Brett Cummings drawing first blood in Friday’s qualifying race. They set the early pace, besting Saood Variawa and Danie Stassen by 48sec over the short qualifying route of 18km.

The race itself – Round 4 of the championship – saw Lategan/Cummings power to a largely uneventful victory, while Variawa/Stassen fell foul to a tricky water crossing that tripped them up, and excluded them from the final results.

But teammates Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy made the most of the opportunity to move up into second place overall. They finished just 25sec behind Lategan/Cummings, with the final Hilux pairing of Guy Botterill and stand-in co-driver, Zaheer Bodhanya, completing the podium. This was a power performance by TGRSA, and a rich contribution towards Toyota winning the Manufacturers’ Award on the day. By the time the dust settled over the first race day of the double-header weekend, Lategan/Cummings had made up some lost ground in the championship fight, and were looking forward to another solid performance in Round 5.

Saturday of the race weekend dawned crisp and cool, and Lategan/Cummings made the most of the conditions to win their second consecutive qualifying race. This time their lead was only 4sec, over Class T1+ rookies, Fouché and Bertus Blignault, in a #TeamHilux T1+. Variawa/Stassen went 4th-fastest, with Botterill/Bodhanya setting the 5th-fastest time of the morning. De Villiers/Murphy suffered a puncture early in the qualifier, costing them a significant amount of time. As a result, they were only 13th-fastest in the session, but the main race offered new opportunities.

As it turned out, Lategan/Cummings suffered a 5min penalty when the transmission of their car required a sensor replacement shortly before the start of the race. They were forced to leave the service park behind schedule, and paid the price in the form of a penalty which largely precluded them from victory. But the TGRSA crew displayed the toughness and tenacity which is synonymous with Toyota to fight back to 4th place overall, thus keeping their championship aspirations alive.

At the same time, De Villiers/Murphy recorded their second 2nd-place finish in as many days, keeping themselves in with a shout in terms of the championship. But the man of the moment was undeniably Botterill, partnered with Bodhanya for this event. The pair recorded a largely clean run to clinch victory, albeit just 9sec ahead of their teammates. A stunning maiden win for the man from KZN/Natal.

As for Variawa/Stassen, they struggled with the GPS unit in their car; and lost further time when they suffered a puncture. The tyre was extremely hot, and they were forced to wait for it to cool down before continuing on their way. Fifth place was the best they could muster in the circumstances, but the pair clearly had significant pace, and will certainly play a role in future events.

“We are extremely happy with our results this weekend,” said TGRSA Team Principal, SVR Hallspeed’s Glyn Hall. “Henk and Brett were a bit unlucky not to win on both days, but we are very pleased for Guy, winning his first event. Giniel and Dennis showed why they are known for their consistency, and we could see that Saood and Danie are sure to make big contributions to the team in the near future.”

The next round of the SARRC will take place in the Free State town of Welkom on 6-7 October, 2023. This will be the penultimate round of the season, with the finale following on 10-11 November in the Waterberg.