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  • Anthony Taylor/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Hilux) 1st overall and in class T
  • Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie (Toyota Hilux) 2nd overall and in class T
  • Privateers Pieter Ruthven/Hansie Rheeder (Toyota Hilux) 1st in class S
  • Toyota win manufacturers’ team prize

Reigning champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy and team-mates Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie gave Castrol Team Toyota the perfect start to the new national championship cross country season when they finished a convincing first and second in the Production Vehicle category of the RFS 450 in Harrismith on Saturday.

Toyota won the manufacturers’ team prize with Taylor/Murphy, Poulter/Howie and privateers Jason Venter/Vince van Allemann (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux), who finished sixth overall and in Class T (four-wheel drive vehicles with engines over four litres). Class S (four-wheel drive vehicles with engines up to four litres) was won by Pieter Ruthven/Hansie Rheeder (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux), who finished ninth overall.

Taylor and Murphy, who dominated the 2013 Donaldson Cross Country Championship with four wins out of eight rounds, sounded an ominous warning to their rivals when they took charge of the new Free State event by winning Friday’s qualifying race and going on to claim the all-important first victory of the season. They enjoyed a trouble-free run in the first national championship outing of Toyota Motorsport South Africa’s Dakar Rally-spec Toyota Hilux, the same bakkie that Giniel de Villiers drove to fourth place in the 2014 Dakar Rally in South America in January.

“The Hilux didn’t miss a beat and we’re obviously delighted to have got our title defence off to such a great start,” said Taylor.

Poulter was making his official debut in the championship after piloting the second Dakar-spec Hilux to a creditable 33rd in his first attempt at the world’s longest and toughest motor race. They were one of just 61 cars out of an original entry of 154 to complete the 14-day 9 500-kilometre marathon through Argentina and Chile.

He and Dakar co-pilot Rob Howie were robbed of a probable win in Friday’s qualifying race when they got stuck in a mud hole 10 kilometres from the finish while leading team-mates Taylor and Murphy by a comfortable three minutes. They eventually finished fifth, almost three minutes behind their team-mates.

Dusty conditions in the Free State veld and mealie fields that made up the route in rolling countryside south of Harrismith hampered the overtaking opportunities, and Poulter and Howie were among the many victims of punctured tyres caused by hitting sharp rocks in the dust. They stopped twice to change flat wheels, in the first of Saturday’s two 177-kilometre loops while lying fourth and again, just 10 kilometres from the finish, fortunately not losing their second place as the next production vehicle was well behind them.

“We drove almost the entire qualifying race with no water in the windscreen washer system and eventually we were caught out by a mudhole we couldn’t see through the dirty windscreen,” said Poulter. “It was tough making progress through the field on Saturday as the dust made overtaking very risky. There were a lot of rocks and stones around and moving off the track to pass was inviting a punctured tyre.

“We’re very happy to have finished second in our first outing together and look forward to the rest of the season.”

Team principal Glyn Hall was full of praise for his entire team: “Credit to the technicians and engineers who prepared two race-winning vehicles so soon after our return from the Dakar Rally. Both Hilux bakkies performed faultlessly throughout a tough season-opener and over an interesting new route that was 50 kilometres longer than usual. This is testimony not only to the toughness of the Hilux, but also to the dedication and skill of the whole team.

“Anthony and Dennis did exactly what was expected of them – it was their sixth win in 10 events and a great result for their first outing in the Dakar-spec Hilux. Leeroy and Rob were very unlucky to get stuck in the mud in Friday, which changed their whole race on Saturday. Fortunately, the legendary toughness of the Hilux saw us survive a demanding event and we were able to take the top two places at the finish.”

The next round of the championship is the Toyota Dealer 450 in Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal on April 4 and 5.

Toyota Motorsport South Africa Acknowledges Its Sponsors and Specialist Official Supplier and Technical Partners
Toyota enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Castrol, Toyota Financial Services, Imperial Toyota Group, Innovation Group, Bosch, DeWalt, Donaldson, Edgecam, Ferodo, 4x4 Mega World, FreeM, NGK, Robor, SKF and Spanjaard.

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