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16 June, 2012
Toyota aims at tenth TDR victory
The Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race is the oldest, longest and toughest event in the off-road racing calendar and one that Toyota would dearly love to win again this weekend (22, 23 and 24 June).
Not just because it is the 31st year that Toyota has sponsored the race, or that it is the jewel in the crown of the Absa South African Off-road Championship, but because it would bring Toyota's number of wins to 10 and would help wipe out the memory of the marque's close brush with the milestone decade of wins last year.
Last year Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin came within 17 kilometres of scoring a momentous Toyota victory in their Castrol Toyota Hilux, only to falter with a broken side shaft while leading eventual winners Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Ford Ranger) by some 10 minutes. They eventually got going again after replacing the side shaft in a dry river bed in 18 minutes and finished in second place, 8 min 29 sec behind the winners.
While Taylor and Birkin will be aiming to rectify this, their toughest competition is likely to come from team-mates Duncan Vos and Rob Howie in the second Castrol Toyota Hilux. Vos and Howie currently lead the championship by 21 points from Visser and Badenhorst, with Taylor and Birkin a further three points in arrears in third. Two successive wins in the last two rounds of the championship, in the Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga in April and the Timbertrack 400 in KwaZulu-Natal in May, have put Vos and Howie in pole position to win what would be Vos's fourth Toyota Desert Race in six years. He scored a hat-trick of victories from 2007 to 2009 with Richard Leeke, Louis Weichelt and Ralph Pitchford respectively.
"We're confident we have two cars and crews that are capable of winning this weekend's race," said Castrol Team boss Glyn Hall. "Of course we're under pressure to win Toyota's own event, especially after coming so close in last year's 30th anniversary event, so we're leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to add the Toyota Desert Race to our list of victories with the Castrol Toyota Hilux.
"Our cars are in the best shape we've ever had them, better than when they went to the Dakar [earlier this year]. Everything we learnt in those 15 days and 8 000 kilometres in South America in January has been analysed and incorporated into these machines. It's an ongoing process of testing and development and our results in the last two events have shown that we're getting closer to our optimum performance. There's still more to come and we're aiming to show some of this progress in the three-day Toyota Desert Race.
"It's a long, tough race with many different challenges to meet and very strong opposition. With a clean run on all three days in the Botswana desert - which is always a tall ask for any team - we can pull off a Toyota victory and repay the faith shown in us by our sponsors."
Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service park will again be located in the village of Kumakwane, 25 km west of Gaborone. The weekend's action gets under way at 12h30 on Friday (22 June) with the Donaldson Prologue, a time trial to decide the start order for Saturday's race. Day one of the race itself will start at 08h30 on Saturday (23 June) with surviving competitors returning to the Kumakwane service park for the overnight halt.
The restart will be at 08h30 on Sunday (24 June) with the finish back at Kumakwane in the
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