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Victory on SARRC Opening Round for TGRSA’s Giniel De Villiers

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TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA (TGRSA) started the 2024 South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) on a high, with a one-two finish at the opening round in the Mpumalanga town of Malalane. Giniel de Villiers and his new co-driver, Elvene Vonk, sprayed the bubbly from the top step of the podium, with Guy Botterill and his new co-driver, Dennis Murphy, finishing in second place.

TGRSA had entered four crews in the Nkomazi400, as the race was known, all fielding the latest version of the GR Hilux EVO, which competes in the sport’s top class. As is customary, the race weekend started with a short Qualifying Race, to determine the starting orders for the main event.  Even though the qualifying route covered only 11km, it was a highly competitive affair, with TGRSA’s Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings posting the second-fastest time, just one second behind the crew on pole.

Saood Variawa and Francois Cazalet posted the third-fastest time, three seconds behind their teammates. De Villiers had problems with the GPS and the electronic odometer in his car and qualified in 10th place, just behind teammate Botterill.

The Friday of the Nkomazi 400 also featured one race loop, which followed the morning’s qualifying session. With the final starting positions locked in, the crews set off on a route that was shortened to just 40km by the organisers. By the time the dust settled at the end of the day, it was Lategan/Cummings who topped the standings, with Variawa/Cazalet in second, just 13sec behind. De Villiers had improved to 8th overall at this point, with Botterill running in 12th.

Next up was the second of the weekend’s three-race loops, which started early on Saturday morning. The route was a demanding one, covering varied terrain which included farmlands and rocky traverses through parts of the mighty Lebombo mountains that border the town. After the first loop, Lategan had increased his lead and was looking to keep things clean in the final loop of the race in the hope of securing his first victory since injuring his shoulder during the penultimate round of 2023, which took place in Welkom.

But disaster struck just 500 metres into the final loop when Lategan collided with a spectator car on the race route. The GR Hilux EVO was too severely damaged to continue, bringing a halt to his impressive charge. The final race loop also claimed the scalp of Variawa, when he went off the side of a mountainous section after struggling with fading brakes.

There was no damage to the car, but he was forced to wait for another competitor to aid in recovering his vehicle to the route, which dropped him down the order. Help arrived in the form of De Villiers/Vonk, who quickly towed their teammates back to the road, before continuing to the finish.

This they did in fine form, reaching the end as the fastest car on the day, in a total time of 6h 21min 12sec. Botterill/Murphy made up plenty of time on the day too, finishing in second place, just 45sec behind their teammates. Variawa/Cazalet were classified in 7th place, despite their off-route excursion.

Toyota also won the Manufacturer Award for the Nkomazi 400, thanks to not only the two TGRSA crews on the podium but also strong performances by Johan and Werner Horn (4th place), as well as Fouché and Bertus Blignaut (5th place), both crews from the #TeamHilux stable.

The next round of the 2024 SARRC is the Vryheid 400, which takes place at the end of May, in the area around the town of Vryheid, in northern KwaZulu-Natal.