After only three rounds out of seven reigning Production Vehicle champions Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie have already stamped their authority on this year’s Donaldson Cross Country Motor Racing Championship.
Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable lead the class T championship

Image by Waldo van der Waal

Victory for the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew in both heats on the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race took their tally of wins to four out of four this season. Poulter and Howie also won six out of seven races 2015, and have dominated the Production Vehicle category over two seasons.

The double victory in Botswana stretched the Poulter/Howie lead over former champions and team-mates, Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy, to 33 points in the overall championship. The gap in a FIA Class is 16 points with Terence Marsh (Red-Lined Nissan Navara, who has used different navigators drawn from the entertainment, corporate and sports worlds, trailing Taylor by 40 points.

A 15 minute penalty in heat one dropped Taylor/Murphy down to fifth overall before the pair recovered to finish second in heat two. However, the overall points situation means Poulter and Howie have a race in hand over their team-mates.

Three Class T cars, for vehicles over four litres with solid axle rear suspension and commercially available tyres, fill the next three places in the overall championship. Chris Visser/Ward Huxtable (Neil Woolridge Motorsport/Ford Performance Ranger), Jason Venter/Vince van Allemann (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Red-Lined Nissan Navara) round out the top five  – and it is Class T is shaping up for a dogfight.

Visser/Huxtable and Venter/van Allemann arrived in Botswana with two points separating them in third and fourth in the overall championship, with three points the difference at the top of Class T. At the end of hostilities in the desert two points was still the difference in the overall championship, with just one point separating the crews in Class T.

Visser/Huxtable scored two second places and Venter/van Allemann a third and a win in Class T in the Desert Race heats, which meant a two point swing in favour of the Toyota crew. Third placed van Staden and Lawrenson scored a win in the first heat but did not finish heat two, which leaves them 32 points behind Visser/Huxtable and 31 behind Venter/van Allemann.

Only six points separate van Staden/Lawrenson and Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer, in fourth place in a second NWM/Ford Performance Ranger, who have recovered well after a shaky start to the season. Woolridge and Dreyer and Christiaan du Plooy and former winner Japie Badenhorst (RFS VW Amarok), standing in for regular co-driver Henk Janse van Vuuren, were models of consistency on the only marathon event on the Donaldson calendar.

The Ford pair scored a brace of fourth places and the Amarok crew two fifth places, with du Plooy trailing Woolridge in the drivers’ championship by nine points. Sixth and a podium place in heat two lifted Luke Both and Andre Vermeulen (Red-Lined Nissan Navara) a place or two up the ladder.

Botha is only one point behind du Plooy in the driver standings, but there is a change in the pecking order where the co-drivers are concerned. Vermeulen moves above Janse van Vuuren who was on paternity duties with his wife giving birth to twins shortly before the race.

In Class S, for cars under four litres with solid axle rear suspension, Heine Strumpher and Henri Hugo (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) continue to hold a slender lead over newcomers Otto Graven and Bobby Brewis in the Graven Motorsport Toyota Hilux. There were no finishers in heat one with Strumpher/Hugo coming home ahead of Graven/Brewis in heat two to take a slender six point lead in the championship.

Former South African champion Jannie Visser and son Chris (Toyota Hilux) were third and join Ronald Graven/Lohan Faber in third place in the championship. Graven and Faber were non finishers in the second heat.

There were two finishers in heart one in Class E with Dave Huddy/Mike Fehrsen (Nissan) taking a slender championship lead over Andries Mynhardt/Deon Steyn in a Ford Ranger. Both crews failed to finish heat two in the difficult Desert Race conditions.

Toyota predictably increased their lead in the South African Manufactures’ Championship. The perennial champions now have 325 points with Ford (110) and Nissan (95) second and third ahead of Volkswagen and BMW with 54 and nine points respectively.

The next event on the Donaldson Cross Country Championship calendar will be held in Lichtenburg on July 29 and 30. It will be round four of the Donaldson series, and incorporates round five of the Northern Regions championship.