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It was a rough and tough day in the Botswana desert where teams competing in the third round of the SA Rally-Raid Championship fought tooth and nail to get the better of the challenging 436 kilometre route of the TGR 1000 Kalahari Botswana Desert Race while getting their vehicles to the finish at the Jwaneng Sports Complex.

The desert is currently overgrown with dense bush and brush and many a body panel was left behind due to the extremely tight route. To add to the excitement, there was not much between the teams and the battles that started at the Pirelli Qualifying Race on the first day Friday, 23 June, continued for six hours and more on the second day of the three day marathon event. A total of 40 teams in both the Production and Special Vehicle Categories received the starting orders on Saturday with 26 managing to successfully complete the day.

In the end, it was the two NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Rangers who came out on top with Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer taking the lead after racing for a total of six hours, 25 minutes and 41 seconds. They lead their team-mates, Lance Woolridge/Kenny Gilbert, who were fastest after the 61 kilometre Pirelli Qualifying Race, by a mere two minutes 31 seconds with the two teams claiming the first two places overall as well as in the Production Vehicle Category and FIA T1+.

Gareth/Dreyer started the day from second position and had a good day in the field while Lance/Gilbert lost power steering 10 kilometres before the finish. The two NWM Ford Castrol Teams were extremely happy with their positions after the second day and are looking forward to the final day with hopes of a route that will open up and allow them to keep pushing hard.

Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota DKR Hilux T1+) rounded off the overall and T1+ podiums after an eventful day that included losing time with a puncture on each of the two loops. They also suffered a driveshaft failure in the first loop that forced them to do running repairs, resulting in them posting a time of 06:32:17.

They were followed by their two team-mates, Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle (06:34:48) and Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (06:46:23). While Botterill/Vacy-Lyle lost time with a flat tyre, De Villiers/Murphy, who opened the road at the beginning of the day, lost valuable time due to electrical issues early in the race while a puncture on each of the loops also added to them dropping down the leader board.

De Villiers described the route as one of the toughest routes at the desert race and the chase for the lead will continue on the final 430 kilometres of the gruelling event.

The FIA T1 leaders, Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid) find themselves just outside the top five in sixth place after an up and down day that saw them losing time replacing two flat tyres while they also experienced fuel pump problems. They find themselves in a battle for the T1 honours with the experienced driver, Johan van Staden and his son, Sean (Renault Duster) who had a clean run to be close behind them in seventh place after a consistent outing. Just under five minutes separate the two teams.

The rest of the top 10 consisted of teenager Saood Variawa/Danie Stassen (Toyota DKR T1+ Hilux) with the youngster still surviving his baptism by fire in his first desert race in Botswana. The young Variawa (17), who is competing in his first national Rally-Raid event and standing his man in the extremely competitive FIA T1+, experienced changing tyres in the desert as the team had three punctures, but they finished eighth overall and are sixth in FIA T1+ (06:58:07).

Gary Bertholdt/Henry Köhne (Toyota Hilux T1+) came home in a commendable ninth place (07:02:06) with Bertholdt being quite ill during the day. Dewald van Breda/Stompie Mynhard finished 10th with their two-wheel drive CR6 (07:06:29) – they are eighth in T1+ and leading the Road to Dakar Challenge.

It was also an especially tough day for Chris Visser/Albertus Venter (Red-Lined REVO T1+) who started the day in 10th place and finished just outside the top 10 in 11th place and ninth in FIA T1+. Losing power-steering at the 80 kilometre mark, Visser had a workout of note on the tight route in the dense bush with 07:05:23 their combined time after two days of racing.

The Red-Lined Motorsport team of Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte (REVO) finished the day on the third step of the FIA T1 podium (06:59:26) while they are 12th in the Production Vehicle Category and still within striking distance of the two T1 teams ahead of them. The team are, however, only a minute and 58 seconds ahead of a determined Jayden Els/Elvéne Vonk (King Price Xtreme SVR) who have the T1 podium in their sights after moving up from 20th to 13th place albeit experiencing suspension problems and having to race in two-wheel drive for long distances.

Four more T1 teams made it to the finish. The German driver, Daniel Schröder and KZN navigator, Ryan Bland (Nissan Navara) finished 15th in the category and fifth in FIA T1 (07:26:01) and were followed by the Blignaut brothers, Fouché and Bertus (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid), who battled their way through the field after starting at the back due to them rolling their vehicle and not being able to complete the qualifier on Friday.

Their time (07:32:49) is also close enough for Nic Pienaar/Carl Swanepoel (Red-Lined REVO) to still catch up. The two former motorcycle competitors had a frustrating day struggling in the dust of slower competitors and lost time due to multiple flat tyres. Their team-mates, Gerhard and Rudi Heinlein (VK56) were the last classified finishers of the day.

In Class T, Hendrik and Heinrich du Plessis (Ford Ranger) kept their lead ahead of Schalk Burger/Henk Janse van Vuuren (King Price Xtreme VW Amarok) who had a long day in the cockpit with niggling mechanical issues and punctures. The teams finished 12th and 18th respectively.

Between the teams who could not reach the finish, were the Horn brothers, Johan and Werner (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid T1+) as well as Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen (Ford Ranger T1+) and the Dutch youngster, Pim Klassen and Wade Harris (Red-Lined VK50).

The route took its toll on the Special Vehicle Category where only six teams managed to reach the finish at Jwaneng. The Swaziland driver, John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten (Zarco Challenger) kept their noses clean to win the category (07:21:44) although they lost time due to mechanical problems.

Two Class G teams joined them on the overall Special Vehicle Category podium with the class winner of the day, Geoff Minnitt/Rodney Burke (Hydro Power Equipment Can-Am Maverick) keeping their lead. Their time (07:41:01) was just under 17 minutes quicker than Glen Theron Craig Galvin (Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick) who rounded off the podium for the day.

Quintin Lessing/Brandon Smith (CRT) clinched Class P (08:05:24) and finished fourth in the category followed by Ewald van Rensburg/Johan Scheepers (08:10:15) and the second Class A team, Lood du Preez/Junior Vardy (Farmers Meat Stryker) who rounded off the top five (09:24:08). The Mostert family, Ian and Werner (Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick) will have their work cut out for them on the third and final day, bringing up the rear.

There were problems for the defending champions and Class A competitors, Tim Howes/Gary Campbell (BAT Spec 4) who ran out of fuel; the Lesotho crew of Andrew Makenete/Ntaote Bereng (BAT Makmobile) and Eugene Bierman/Pieter Visser (BAT Spec 2) while Francois de Wit/Pierre Jordaan could also not finish in Class G with their Can-Am Maverick.

Teams who did not complete the race on Saturday, have a final chance on the third day of the TGR 1000 Kalahari Botswana Desert Race on Sunday, 25 June to take on the two loops of approximately 214km each and to aim for the finish. The racing action starts at 08:00 at the Jwaneng Sports Complex where the Race Headquarters and Designated Service Point (DSP) are also situated.

Published by: SA Cross Country Series – Charmaine Fortune

Photography by: Plan C Production

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