Toyota Gazoo Racing SA will be campaigning their all-new Toyota Hilux at this weekend’s Sun City 400 – the penultimate round in the 2017 South African Cross-Country Series (SACCS). Behind the wheel of the new Dakar challenger will be Giniel de Villiers, partnered by Dennis Murphy – who are also in the hunt to take over the lead of the series if they can complete a hat-trick of victories.
As the sole Toyota Gazoo Racing SA entry, however, De Villiers/Murphy will also be under pressure to preserve Toyota’s unbeaten record, which stretches back to the 2015 season. With teammate Leeroy Poulter withdrawing from motorsport for the remainder of the season for medical reasons, and two of the team’s vehicles already shipped off to China for the Dakar Challenge there at the end of the month, everything is riding on De Villiers’ experienced shoulders.
“This weekend will certainly be a character-building one,” says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “Not only do we have the pressure of only one car in the field, but we also need to try to win the race. At the same time, we’re fielding our brand-new Toyota Hilux, and even though we’ve tested the vehicle as much as possible, this will be its first outing under race conditions.”
Externally the new vehicle is visually almost identical to the current race car. However, under its skin the latest Toyota Hilux boasts a new drivetrain layout, improved suspension geometry and a multitude of tweaks, all aimed at the challenging Dakar Rally, which takes place in January 2018.
“The SACCS has always formed the base of our testing programme for Dakar,” continues Hall. “As such, the opportunity to race the new Toyota Hilux at the Sun City 400 affords us a chance to really put the new car through its paces.”
Early tests have been highly encouraging, but the team is keen to measure their new baby on the varied terrain traditionally offered by the Sun City area.
Flying the flag for Toyota in Class T of the championship are the Horn brothers, Johan and Werner, who campaign their Malalane Toyota Hilux. The pair are currently at the top of the Class T standings, though their lead of seven points means that the championship is still wide open. They’ll have to fend of attacks from the Woolridge clan (Ford Ranger), as well as former rally ace Henk Lategan, who is quickly finding his feet in the SACCS.
Class S has been dominated by former champion Jannie Visser, partnered this year by son Chris. The pair have won four races in a row this year, and have a healthy lead in their class. More Class S entries are expected at Sun City, however, and the Vissers will have to dig deep if they want to remain unbeaten.
“We can’t really ask for much more at this point in the season,” concludes Hall. “We’re leading the overall championship, as well as all three classes. Now we’ve just got to focus on the future, and make sure we wrap up all those championships.”
The Sun City 400 takes place on Friday 15 and Saturday 16 September, and kicks off with a short prologue to determine start positions at 13:30 on Friday. The main event starts at 07:30, and comprises two loops of roughly 175 km each. Race HQ will be at the Sun City complex, and entry to all spectator points, as well as the service park, is free of charge.