For fans of cross country racing, the last weekend in June means only one thing: The Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, or The Desert for short. But while fans certainly have a lot to look forward too, The Desert is traditionally a pivotal race in the season, thanks mainly to the double points on offer. But for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, the Desert Race brings added pressure – as well as opportunities.
“For us, the Desert Race offers an unparalleled opportunity to test our Class FIA vehicles as part of our Dakar programme. However, Toyota is also the title sponsor of the race, and as such we are under pressure to perform well,” explains Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “The points are also very valuable in Botswana, as the Desert Race traditionally makes or breaks the season.”
The Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race is the only marathon event on the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) calendar. It takes place over three days, with a qualifying race of 100 km on Friday, 23 June 2017. The main race is run on Saturday and Sunday, 24 and 25 June, with each day comprising roughly 450 km.
“The Desert is an extremely tough race,” says two-time Desert Race winner, Leeroy Poulter. “The thick sand really saps the car’s performance, and the navigation can be tricky in places, but at least it is the same for everyone.”
Poulter and navigator Rob Howie have showcased the reliability and pace of the Class FIA Toyota Hilux over the past three seasons, but it will be a first Desert Race in more than a decade for Giniel de Villiers, now partnered by former champion navigator Dennis Murphy.
De Villiers, known for his expertise on the Dakar Rally, will be right at home with the longer distances of the Desert Race. The Dakar star had a rough start to his return to cross country racing, with a DNF on the opening round, and a roll in the qualifying race of round two.
“But then we fought back and managed to finish in second place on the Battlefields 400, despite the roll,” explains De Villiers. “The car feels great, and I’m getting used to the shorter distances of the SACCS again. The Desert, however, is the big one, and I’m keen on doing well in Botswana.”
As things stand, Poulter leads the overall standings after two rounds, with 60 points on the board. Johan Horn in the Class T1 Malalane Toyota Hilux is tied for second place with Ford’s Gareth Woolridge on 33 points, while De Villiers is in 5th, with 23 points.
The Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race gets under way on Friday, June 23, and is again based in the town of Jwaneng in southern Botswana. The route is reportedly largely new, though certain sections are similar to the route used in 2016. Access to spectator points are free of charge, though entrance to the DSP is strictly controlled.