Parys – Motorsport can be a cruel mistress as Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s (TGRSA) Henk Lategan and co-driver Brett Cummings found out at the weekend’s final double-header South African Rally-Raid Championship in a rain-soaked and muddy Parys.
Lategan and Cummings were leading the championship by three points over Giniel de Villiers and stand-in co-driver Rodney Burke going into the final round when water and mud proved their undoing while leading on the second day, allowing De Villiers to clinch his fourth South African cross-country title.
Conditions were almost unprecedented and in Friday’s qualifying race the TGRSA team kept the flag flying with Shameer Variawa and Danie Stassen setting the benchmark followed by privateers Johan and Werner Horn also in a Toyota Hilux T1+ and behind them De Villiers/Burke, Guy Botterill and co-driver Simon Vacy-Lyle, with Lategan and Cummings making it an all Hilux top group.
When the flag dropped for the shortened and delayed first race start Lategan showed his class powering to the front to finish ahead of De Villeirs, with Variawa and Botterhill wrapping up the race for the works team.
Conditions had become so bad that race organisers were forced to cancel the second race loop, bringing an end to round six and a title race for Lategan and De Villiers in Saturday’s seventh round.
After persistent overnight rain, conditions remained treacherous over the 12km qualifying course and once the race got under way Lategan/Cummings moved into the lead midway into the loop, but shortly afterwards their race unfortunately came to an end.
The rain and mud had taken its toll with a dislodged alternator belt coming off in deep water and when they pulled off the track they sank to the chassis, and there was no way of dislodging them.
A similar fate awaited Variawa and Stassen within sight of their teammates, while Botterill and Vacy-Lyle also lost an alternator belt which also drives the power-steering pump. Despite the big tyres on the T+1 they still managed to nurse it home to finish in fourth place overall.
De Villiers had no such issues and finished the race in second place.
As was the case the previous day, organisers again had to make the call to cancel the second race as conditions had become untenable, securing De Viliers’ second position and the driver’s championship.
It capped an outstanding season for the locally built and developed Hilux T1+ starting with Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel’s victory in Dakar in January.
Since then the two have also wrapped up the inaugural World Rally-Raid Championship, while Yazeed Al Rajhi and co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz also wrapped up the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas rally in Saudi Arabia this weekend, handing Toyota victory in both of the FIA’s cross-country series.
All of the TGRSA focus is now on next year’s Dakar Rally, analysing all the data from its various racing activities around the world to ensure the best possible result in January.