Round five of the Absa Off Road Championship developed into a war of attrition with only nine cars classified as finishers in the Production Vehicle category. Of the nine, however, four were Toyota Hilux 2,7i entries.

Star of the Castrol Toyota Team were former Class E champions Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin who finished third overall and took the Class D honours. The other class win went to Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in the Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux, who were fifth overall and first in Class E – with Toyota entries also taking third and fifth in the class.

Cronje and Birkin were the only Castrol Toyota factory entry to make it to the finish. Cronje’s younger brother Gavin and co-driver Robin Houghton crashed out of the event, while Paolo Piazza-Musso and Ockie Fourie were sidelined with mechanical problems.

The younger Cronje and multiple SA champion Houghton were lucky to escape unhurt when they destroyed their Toyota Hilux 2,7i on the opening lap of the three loop event.

“We hit a small ditch and then clipped a bank which sent the Hilux head over heels,” said Cronje. “I am very disappointed but fortunately neither of us was hurt in what was a big crash.”

The incident cost the elder Cronje and Birkin time when they stopped to help. Their problems, however, started on lap two.

“After stopping to help Gavin and Robin we had a relatively easy lap one, but on lap two, we broke a torsion bar,” said the elder Cronje. “The repair time at DSP cost us about 15 minutes.

“On the final lap it was just a matter of trying to keep the Toyota Hilux in one piece. Both Chris and I were absolutely finished at the end, and I can’t say I enjoy events that are as rough as this one.”

For Piazza-Musso and Fourie there was heartbreak when they were forced to retire in lap two with suspension damage.

“It is very disappointing,” said Piazza-Musso. “We damaged the suspension on the opening lap and were simply trying to nurse the car home.

“On a route like this one it was almost impossible to avoid further damage, and eventually a whole host of problems caught up with us.”

Visser and Badenhorst also broke a torsion bar on lap two. Fortunately for them repairs were straight forward and they did not lose much time.

“Over the last lap we had a good dice with the de Bruyns, but it was a matter of keeping the vehicle together,” Visser said. “On a rough event like this simply making it to the finish gives you a good feeling.”

The de Bruyn father and son combination, in a privately entered Toyota Hilux, had a clean run in terms of mechanical reliability. A conservative approach saw them take sixth overall and second in class behind the Visser/Badenhorst car.

Zane Pearce, partnered by Hennie Vosloo in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i , maintained his 100 percent finish record this season. Pearce, however, had to work hard to make it to the end and wasn’t complimentary about the route.

“We broke a drive shaft on lap one but that was the least of our problems,” he said. “The vehicle took a consistent hammering, and on the final lap the gearbox said enough was enough.

“We did the last 40 kilometres in first gear. We were pleased to finish, but this doesn’t rate as a great event.”

Toyota Motorsport manager Whammy Haddad was in philosophical mood after the event.

“Two class wins was a good achievement,” he said, “but it came at a price. It turned out to be tougher than anyone expected, and those who made it to the finish certainly earned their points.”

Original article from Car