Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s two drivers, Giniel de Villiers and Henk Lategan, are locked in a tight battle for the 2018 South African Cross-Country Series title, going into the final round of the season. With just ten points separating the two drivers at the top of the Production Category standings, and 30 points on offer for a win, either one of the two Toyota Hilux drivers can walk away as champion in Glen Harvie this coming weekend.
To make matters even more interesting, Atlas Copco’s Chris Visser, also driving a Class FIA Toyota Hilux, still has a mathematical chance to win the title – if both factory crews fail to finish, and Visser wins the race.
“It is an interesting situation,” says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “We’re fortunate that any of three Toyota crews can win the championship this weekend, but it is by no means clear who’ll emerge as the winner.”
In the navigators’ championship, things are even tighter. Due to Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Rob Howie withdrawing from the series after a serious back injury sustained during the Qatar Cross-Country Rally earlier this year, Dennis Murphy paired up with De Villiers for the remainder of the season. This saw Barry White take up the vacant seat next to Lategan, and the two Toyota Gazoo Racing SA navigators are now tied on 93 points.
Chris Visser’s navigator, Philip Herselman, is just seven points behind the factory navigators; with Ford’s Ward Huxtable, who navigates for Lance Woolridge, a further five points adrift. Both Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) and Geoff Minnitt (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) are also in with a mathematical shout, though victory for either of them would take all four crews ahead of them to not finish the race – a long shot at best.
For De Villiers and Lategan, the race is certainly on in Glen Harvie, and Hall made it very clear that there are no team orders for the race: “I’ve told the lads to go out and do the necessary to ensure that we win the title. I’d like to see both cars finish the race, of course, but in the end, we don’t mind if it is Henk or Giniel who brings home the silverware for us.”
Only eight points separate the two Toyota Gazoo Racing SA drivers, with Lategan having taken over the lead in the title chase after De Villiers failed to complete the penultimate round, the Harrismith 400.
The team will be incorporating some of the advances made during the recent Rally of Morocco, which Nasser al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel won in their Toyota Hilux. As much as there is a title chase taking place in Glen Harvie, it also offers Toyota Gazoo Racing SA an opportunity to test and further develop the Toyota Hilux for Dakar 2019.
“We’re in the final testing phase at the moment,” concludes Hall. “Dakar is around the corner, as we have to ship everything by early December. So, we have to use every possible opportunity to make sure that we’re ready for that – and the final race of the season certainly gives us the chance to further hone the latest Hilux.”
But the overall championship isn’t the only one that will be decided in Glen Harvie this weekend. The fight for Class T honours rages on, as the Malalane Toyota Hilux crew of Johan and Werner Horn find themselves just nine points behind Ford’s Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable. The Horn brothers are the defending Class T champions, but have endured a torrid season, winning only one race so far.
A win in Glen Harvie, however, might not be enough to get them over the line in their title chase, as second place will be enough for Woolridge/Huxtable to seal victory, even if the Horn brothers win. To make matters even more entertaining, Ford’s Gareth Woolridge and Atlas Copco’s Gary Bertholdt each won one of the two previous rounds, and if the two crews ahead trip each other up, could still walk away with the title.
Overall, the Gold 400, as the upcoming race is known, promises plenty of hot action for the crews and spectators alike. The race HQ and DSP will again be based at the Kloof Recreation Club in Glen Harvie, and the qualifying race gets under way at 14:00 on Friday, November 2nd. The main race starts at 8am on Saturday.