Normal service was resumed when Anthony Taylor/Denis Murphy and Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie secured a one/two for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA in the Production Vehicle qualifying race for the Nkomazi 450, the fifth round of the Donaldson Cross Country Motor Racing Championship, here today.

Taylor and Murphy beat their team-mates by 18 seconds to take pole position for tomorrow’s race with the pair of factory cars, running in the FIA Class, around three minutes quicker than the opposition. The result also preserved Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s unbeaten record this season.

The podium was completed when brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) gave the locals something to cheer about. A timely return to form saw the Horn brothers take the honours in Class T for vehicles over four litres with solid axle rear suspension and commercially available tyres.

Both Taylor and Poulter said afterwards that you needed to keep your wits about you on the tricky and technical 100 kilometre route. Poulter/Howie were delayed by a puncture but the major focus was on the Class T cars where a tight battle is raging in the overall and class championships.

The Horns never had to get out of the car and the same applied to fourth place Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson in the Red-Lined Nissan Navara. The top five were completed by Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (Neil Woolridge Motorsport/Ford Performance Ranger) who were back in action after a fire destroyed the NWM workshop in Pietermaritzburg last month.

The Horn siblings, van Staden/Lawrenson and Woolridge/Dreyer upstaged the two crews fighting it out for supremacy in Class T. Chris Visser/Ward Huxtable (NWM/Ford Performance Ranger) and Jason Venter/Vince van Allemann (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) were sixth and seventh overall and fourth and fifth in Class T.

Going into the Malalane race Venter and van Allemann led their more experienced rivals by eight points in the overall championship and by 17 points in the Class T stakes. The gap between the two crews was 45 seconds which gives Visser/Huxtable a slight psychological advantage.

Both crews were hit by punctures – two apiece – and on a tight route will have their work cut out making up places. It adds up to a fascinating battle between youth and experience with high stakes.

Venter/van Allemann were followed by Otto Graven and Bobby Brewis (Graven Motorsport Toyota Hilux) in the first of the Class S cars for vehicles up to four litres with solid axle rear suspension. The pair currently lead the Class S championship, and came in ahead of the Atlas Copco VW Amarok in the hands of Gary Bertholdt and Philip Herselman.

The top 10 was rounded out by Terence Marsh and Hlubi Mboya Arnold in the Red-Lined Nissan Navara. It is Mboya Arnold’s second stint alongside Marsh as a celebrity co-driver with the pair the second of the Class S cars.

Among the casualties were rally driver Japie van Niekerk who was having his first taste of cross country racing, along with Robin Houghton who is a multiple former South African rally and cross country champion. The pair, out in a Red-Lined Nissan Navara competing in Class T, retired with power steering problems, but will start tomorrow’s race.

Race headquarters, the start finish and the designated service park are all located at the Riverview Preparatory school on the outskirts of Malalane. Public entrance to these areas and spectator points along the route is free of charge.

Tomorrow’s race will be run over two 156 kilometre loops with a compulsory 20 minute service halt at the end of the first lap. The race will be run in conjunction with a round of the Northern Regions Cross Country Championship and start at 08:30.