Botswana’s biggest and popular sporting spectacle, the annual Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000km Desert Race, begins and ends this weekend in Kumakwane, some 25 kilometres to the southwest of Gaborone. The motor show’s qualifying race to determine race grid positions was scheduled to start over lunch hour this Friday, with the main course reserved for Saturday and Sunday.
Tongues are already wagging among the desert race’s genuine enthusiasts. The big question is: Will Castrol Toyota Hilux crews of Duncan Vos and Rob Howie, as well as Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin come home in that order on what is round four of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, to give Toyota its second win in succession in the production class of the Botswana classic? Until last year, the Toyota team had last won in 1999, and it took them to get Vos - formerly with the Nissan team - to finish on first and second position respectively in last year’s edition. A mere 35 seconds separated the two crews with Vos and Howie taking their third successive victory last year to tighten their hold on the Production Vehicle category championship in the series which they finally won.
The two Toyota crews had dominated from Saturday’s racing section when they went past Friday’s prologue winners, and the people’s favourite, Hannes Grobler and his navigator Hennie ter Stege (RFS BMW X3), who completely disappeared off the race radar later in the day.
What perhaps makes the race more interesting is the fact that spectators are spoiled for choice between watching motor bikes and quads that often use a different route to that of bigger vehicles. Those who are fond of camping also maximise on the opportunity to go out for fun, although many are already fuming that this year the organisers have decided to do away with the tradition of setting up camp sites. That however, is not expected to stop revellers finding other ways of taking advantage of the celebratory atmosphere.
The race is often so entertaining that revellers and competitors mind very little at the time. For the race drivers and their handlers, a huge amount of money is spent in designing their respective racing machines to perform better as they aim for the points they need for pole position in the series. On the other hand, spectators are often prepared to risk anything, be it the unkind cold weather, or the unfriendly terrain of sandy, rocky and thorny thick bushes.
The motor show has actually become so addictive that even families take time to go out to race together be it as husbands and wives, fathers and sons or other combinations of siblings and cousins. With this year’s race being the fourth round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, racing guru and media expert, Charmaine Fortune confirmed that the cross country racing is often a family orientated sport and that at the last round of the championship, the Toyota Dealer Sugarbelt 400 in KwaZulu-Natal, the entry list contained eight father/son combinations, five sets of brothers and one father daughter combination.
Fortune further reveals that the Unit Freight composed of husband and wife, is also ready to try and cause an upset next week. “Cross country stalwart Kobus van Tonder has competed with son-in-law Freddie Kriel in recent seasons, but has decided to take a sabbatical. Kriel will now take over the driving duties and will be joined in the cockpit of the Unit Freight Ford Ranger by wife Suné who is van Tonder’s daughter,” she told BG Sport.
She further states that a second Unit Freight Ford entry sees van Tonder’s son Jacques and second daughter Lizelle team up. Keeping an eye on matters will be Kobus van Tonder who will take over as team manager for the rest of the season.
Equally interesting according to Fortune, is the fact that the Donaldson Filtration Solutions’ Chief Executive Officer, Rob Simpson will give a new meaning to hands on sponsorship at the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race. Rob will co-drive for former South African champion Archie Rutherford in the Imperial Automotive Nissan Navara at the Production Vehicle category. Sadly, the all-time people’s favourite, Hannes Grobbler, announced his retirement at the end of last year’s showpiece.