The Sun City 400, penultimate round of the 2017 SACCS, proved to be quite an event for Toyota. Firstly, the all-new Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux, which is currently in development for the 2018 Dakar Rally, was first over the line on debut. But beyond that, Toyota won in each of the production classes, ensuring the Manufacturer’s Award for the event in the process.
“It was one of those picture-perfect weekends for us,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Team Principal, Glyn Hall, after the event concluded at the iconic Sun City resort in the Northwest Province. “The heat was on in every sense, but we not only prevailed, we clinched victory in each of the classes we entered.”
The big win for Hall was that of Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dennis Murphy, who raced the all-new Dakar-bound Toyota Hilux for the first time. The new car, with its mid-mounted engine, proved its worth from the get-go, as De Villiers/Murphy crafted a stunning victory with the new machine.
“We won the prologue on Friday, even though we felt we could’ve gone quicker,” explained De Villiers from the Designated Service Park (DSP) at Sun City after the event. “From there we managed to maintain our lead, despite two punctures on the second loop of the race. The first loop was really tough, as we had to find the route in the thick Pilanesberg bush. But we got through unscathed, and secured victory in the process.”
De Villiers/Murphy’s win means Toyota’s winning streak on the SACCS remains intact, having last lost a race back in 2015. What makes this feat even more remarkable, is the fact that three drivers – Anthony Taylor, Leeroy Poulter and Giniel de Villiers – have all contributed with wins on various events.
With three successive wins in this year’s series, De Villiers and Murphy clinched both the overall SACCS Championship and the Class FIA Championship after taking the chequered flag in Sun City. This is De Villiers’ first cross-country championship in more than a decade, and the man from the Cape certainly has reason to smile.
Behind the spectacular new Class FIA Toyota Hilux came the boys in Class T, where Toyota is represented by several privateer teams. Championship leaders prior to the event, and hot favourites for the win, Johan and Werner Horn of Malalane Toyota, brought their Toyota Hilux home just seven seconds ahead of fellow Toyota crew, Jason Venter and Vince van Alleman (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux).
The Horn brothers’ win sets them up perfectly for the final race of the season, which they’ll go to with a near-unassailable lead in the championship standings. Essentially, they only need to complete the race in order to seal the championship, but they won’t be taking anything for granted, as the SACCS is known for the stings in its tail.
Class S, for four-wheel-drive cars with engines up to four litres, saw Ronald Graven and navigator Lohan Faber triumph in their new Toyota Hilux. The pair, who had sat out the bulk of the 2017 season as they developed and built their new car, came out swinging, and secured a maiden victory for their new steed.
They upset the Class S championship somewhat, though log leaders Jannie Visser and his son Chris (Toyota Hilux) still top the standings and look odds-on favourites to win the championship at next month’s Atlas Copco Gold 400 in Gauteng.
With just one race left in the season, all eyes will be on the championships that are yet to be decided. At the same time, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA will be investing a lot more time in the development of the all-new mid-engined Toyota Hilux, which is set to take on the Dakar Rally in January, 2018.
Before the final round of the SACCS, however, the team will be tackling the fearsome Dakar Series: Rally China at the end of September. The seven-day race is run to the same rules and regulations as the Dakar Rally, and will give Giniel de Villiers and German navigator Dirk von Ztizewitz the opportunity to test their Toyota Hilux in conditions similar to those expected on Dakar 2018.