Guy Botterill notched up his first win in the driver’s seat of a Toyota Hilux, crowning a spectacularly successful weekend for Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGRSA)as they took top honours in both Round 4 and Round 5 of the 2023 South African Rally-Raid Championships (SARRC), run in a double-header format, in Parys at the weekend.
Henk Lategan and co-driver Brett Cummings drew first blood in Friday’s qualifying race. They set the early pace, besting Saood Variawa and Danie Stassen by 48 sec over the short qualifying route of 18 km.
The race itself – Round 4 of the championship – saw Lategan/Cummings power to a largely uneventful victory, while Variawa/Stassen fell foul to a tricky water crossing that tripped them up, and excluded them from the final results.
But teammates Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy made the most of the opportunity to move up into second place overall. They finished just 25 sec behind Lategan/Cummings, with the final Hilux pairing of Guy Botterill and stand-in co-driver, Zaheer Bodhanya, completing the podium.
Saturday of the race weekend dawned crisp and cool, and Lategan/Cummings made the most of the conditions to win their second consecutive qualifying race. This time their lead was only 4 sec, over Class T1+ rookies, Fouché and Bertus Blignault, in a #TeamHilux T1+. Variawa/Stassen went 4th-fastest, with Botterill/Bodhanya setting the 5th-fastest time of the morning.
De Villiers/Murphy suffered a puncture early in the qualifier, costing them a significant amount of time. As a result, they were only 13th-fastest in the session, but the main race offered new opportunities.
As it turned out, Lategan/Cummings suffered a 5 min penalty when the transmission of their car required a sensor replacement shortly before the start of the race. They were forced to leave the service park behind schedule, and paid the price in the form of a penalty which largely precluded them from victory.
At the same time, De Villiers/Murphy recorded their second 2nd-place finish in as many days, keeping themselves in with a shout in terms of the championship.
But the man of the moment was undeniably Botterill, partnered with Bodhanya for this event. The pair recorded a largely clean run to clinch victory, albeit just 9 sec ahead of their teammates. A stunning maiden win for the man from KZN/Natal.
As for Variawa/Stassen, they struggled with the GPS unit in their car; and lost further time when they suffered a puncture. The tyre was extremely hot, and they were forced to wait for it to cool down before continuing on their way.
Fifth place was the best they could muster in the circumstances, but the pair clearly had significant pace, and will certainly play a role in future events.
For championship leaders Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (#277) it was a crucial opportunity to score maximum points in their Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger. The opening 24 km qualifying sprint for Friday’s race set the scene for a thrilling duel as they posted the third-fastest time, with team-mates Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert (#234) matching their time – with mere seconds separating the top crews.
The main race, which comprised two loops of 173 km each, unfortunately didn’t go to plan, as a mechanical problem sidelined Lance and Kenny just 13 km into the opening stint. Gareth and Boyd were running as high as second place on the first lap until a rear CV joint failed, and they eventually had to stop to remove the driveshaft.
Having to contend with two-wheel drive only, they dropped back to seventh by the time they returned to the pits for the mandatory 30-minute service where the driveshaft was replaced.
Gareth and Boyd were determined to recover lost time on the second loop, and they did just that, managing to fight their way up to fourth by the end of a tough and extremely fast race which saw all the teams regularly running on the regulated speed limiter of 170 km/h – with an astonishing average speed of just under 100 km/h for the entire loop which primarily comprised farmlands and some district roads.
The NWM-supported privateer Ranger team of Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen (#241) was classified 11th in qualifying, but made up good ground during the race to ultimately finish seventh in T1+.
The NWM technicians set about working on Lance’s car once it was returned to the pits to ensure it was ready for Round 5 of the SARRC on Saturday, which they only completed in the early hours of the morning in icy sub-zero temperatures.
Another short 18 km qualifying stage on an entirely new route for Saturday saw Gareth and Boyd set the third-fastest time, with Lance and Kenny back in action. They qualified ninth, matching the time set by Wors and Andre in the privateer T1+ Ranger.
However, the team found a sensor issue that couldn’t be resolved in the short time available, so they were down on power. There was a thrilling battle at the front of the field throughout the main race which comprised two 170 km loops, as the top crews traded places on numerous occasions.
Gareth and Boyd pushed hard on the opening loop, but a damaged CV boot on the final lap meant they adopted a slightly more cautious pace for the remainder of the race to end third overall. This gave the young crew their fourth podium finish of the 2023 season.
Based on the provisional results, they look set to retain the lead of the overall Production Vehicle and class T1+ championships with two rounds remaining.