Brian Baragwanath and navigator Leonard Cremer made history when they won the inaugural Toyota Gazoo Racing SA (TGRSA) 1000 Desert Race that took place over 18-20 June, and almost a thousand kilometres, in the Upington area of the Northern Cape with their Century Racing CR6.
The TGRSA 1000 Desert Race formed the third round of the 2021 South African National Cross Country Series (SACCS) and is the only marathon event on the calendar. The race started on Friday with a 105km Pirelli Qualifying Race that determined the starting order for the racing section on Saturday with the combined results of the first two days used for the positioning on Sunday.
A total of 43 teams started the TGRSA 1000 Desert Race that substituted the historical Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race that could not be hosted in Botswana this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Teams had to complete the northern loop of the TGRSA 1000 Desert Race twice on Saturday and a different loop towards the south of Upington twice on Sunday. It was a challenging and enjoyable route that included lots of sandy sections as well as rocky parts and even some mini dunes.
After three tough days of racing and a nail-biting duel with Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (TGRSA Toyota Hilux) on the final two days, it was Baragwanath and Cremer who brought their V8-powered two-wheel drive Century Racing CR6 home in a total time of 11 hours 27 minutes and 30 seconds to win the Production Vehicle Category as well as the FIA Class. The winners started the final day trailing the defending champions by a mere 22 seconds and another clean run – they only had one flat tyre on the final day – a dream came true and they clinched the victory.
The lead at the front changed hands a few times and after a total of three flat tyres on the final day as well as a broken rear drive shaft that resulted in Lategan/Cummings having to push the new petrol-powered 3.5 litre turbo charged V6 Hilux as hard as they could in three-wheel drive, the team had to settle for the runner-up position, only three minutes and 16 seconds behind the winners after more than 11 and a half hours of racing.
The overall Production Vehicle Category and FIA Class podium were rounded off by Lance Woolridge/Elvéne Vonk (Ford Castrol Cross Country Ranger) (11:36:49) who had a good race with only one flat tyre on the final day. They were tied in a battle with Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (TGRSA Hilux) who also lost time with three punctures while they frustratingly got stuck on a mound and lost more time to eventually finish the race in fifth place overall and in the FIA Class.
Only eight seconds separated De Villiers/Murphy from Chris Visser/Albertus Venter (Toyota Hilux) who moved up from sixth place to finish fourth overall and in the FIA Class after yet another good day enjoying the racing conditions in the desert. De Villiers/Murphy were followed by their team-mates, Shameer Variawa/Danie Stassen who finished sixth overall and sixth in the FIA Class, with Conrad Rautenbach/Riaan Greyling (Red-Lined Motorsport VK56) who completed their marathon event in seventh place. The multiple National Rally champions Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle brought the fourth TGRSA Hilux home in eighth place overall in the Production Vehicle Category and in the FIA Class after a testing three days that included a total of 14 flat tyres.
From starting way down the field on Saturday because of a time penalty after the Pirelli Qualifying Race on Friday, Eben Basson/Gerhard Schutte (Red-Lined Motorsport VK56) clawed their way back to 13th in the category at the halfway mark of the race. Basson, who competed in his first ever marathon desert race, and Schutte eventually finished ninth overall and in the FIA Class. They also won the Road to the Dakar Challenge and a free entry to the Dakar Rally and plan to participate in this event in 2023.
After winning the Pirelli Qualifying Race on Friday, a few niggling issues caused Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (Ford Castrol Cross Country Ranger) to lose time and positions. They were eventually seventh overall as well as in the FIA Class at the halfway mark on Saturday, but having to fix a problematic engine belt eight kilometres before the final finish, cost them valuable time and they managed to finish 10th (12:54:32).
Five more teams in the FIA Class finished the gruelling TGRSA 1000 Desert Race and earned points towards the various championships. Dewald van Breda/Johann du Toit (CR5) were 11th in the class with just four seconds separating them from Johan van Staden and his son, Sean (Moto-Netix KEC Racing Renault) who experienced steering problems for the best part of the final day as the power steering rack broke early in the race. They also got lost and got stuck, but persevered to finish 12th in the FIA Class.
Team Red-Lined Motorsport returned from the event with another 100% finish rate albeit with some disappointment this time. Ernest Roberts/Henry Köhne (VK56) started the final day in the top 10 and with a healthy lead in the Road to Dakar Challenge, but 38 kilometres before the finish, a left driveshaft failure cost them loads of time resulting in them plummeting down the leader board to eventually finish 13th in the class. Their team-mates and newcomers, Philip Botha/Roelof Janse van Vuren (VK50) returned home with another race finish and points in the bag.
Jason Venter/Jaco van Aardt (4×4 Mega World ARB Toyota Hilux) will have lots of stories to share after their TGRSA 1000 Desert Race experience, but they finished and were 15th in the FIA Class.
Class T – Ford clean sweep
The Class T championship was turned on its head on the third and final day of the race when three Ford Ranger teams under the Neil Woolridge Motorsport umbrella claimed the podium. Malcolm Kock and his son, Frans, were second in the class behind the leaders, Johan Horn/Leander Pienaar (Malalane Toyota Hilux) after Friday and again at the halfway mark on Saturday. The leaders then ran into problems during the final section of the race on Sunday opening the door for the father and son team to claim their first class victory of the season (12:32:26) after a challenging, but enjoyable event.
Their team-mates, Bernard Johnstone/Jan Harm Hugo finished second after a consistent race with Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen, who could not complete the qualifying race and had to start from the back of the field, rounding off the podium. Dylan Venter/Vince van Allemann (4×4 Mega World ARB Toyota Hilux) finished fourth in Class T after an eventful race with lots of drama and lessons learnt.
Both the Class S teams finished the TGRSA 1000 Desert Race with Jannie Visser and his son Chris winning the class with their Toyota Hilux, despite two punctures on the final day. Another father and son pairing, that of Piet and Benjamin Kotze, experienced overheating problems during the whole race, but finished just behind team Visser with their Toyota Hilux.
The inaugural Toyota Gazoo Racing SA 1000 marathon Desert Race was enjoyed by all the competitors who had only compliments about the route and organisation. Competing in Botswana is special to everyone, but competing in the desert conditions in the Northern Cape, was a first for all.
The next round of the championship is the Vryburg 400, which is a double-header that will see the SACCS crews compete in Round 4 and 5 of the 2021 championship on the weekend of 13 and 14 August.