Round 1 of the 2021 South African Cross-Country Series (SACCS) is set to take place around the Mpumalanga town of Dullstroom this weekend, with the Mpumalanga 400, and TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA is primed for action. Two of the team’s Class FIA Toyota Hilux race cars will be in action, with former champions Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy spear-heading the attack.
“We’re really excited to get the season under way,” says TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “With that said, we won’t quite be at full power when the flag drops in Dullstroom.”
Defending champion Henk Lategan, who suffered a crash on Stage 4 of the 2021 Dakar Rally, will be side-lined for the race, as he recovers from shoulder surgery following the crash. His seat will be occupied by TGRSA’s multiple SA National Rally Champion, Guy Botterill, who has been chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel of the Hilux for some time.
This will be Botterill’s first national race behind the wheel of the Hilux, though the Durbanite has logged some kilometres during testing, as well as the recent Barberspan 300, where he finished second overall, with navigator Brett Cummings beside him.
“I learnt a lot during the Barberspan race,” says Botterill, “but the Mpumalanga 400 is sure to be a different kettle of fish, and I’ll have to adjust to the format of the national championship.”
While the Mpumalanga 400 will be Botterill’s first national cross-country race, the same can’t be said for veteran driver Giniel de Villiers. The former champ will be partnered with Murphy for the 2021 season, and the pair will be looking to capitalise on Lategan’s absence during the opening round.
“The South African championship has become ultra-competitive, and you need to pounce on every opportunity you get to bag meaningful points,” says the Stellenbosch-based driver. “But Dullstroom can be a tricky race, and a lot will depend on the weather conditions, as well as our road position. In the end, however, we only have one goal, and that is to bag maximum points.”
The final Toyota Hilux will be driven by Shameer Variawa, this time with stand-in navigator Danie Stassen reading the notes. Stassen, who usually races with fellow- Toyota Hilux driver, Chris Visser, offered his services after Visser was forced to withdraw for health reasons. Variawa’s full-time navigator will be announced prior to Round 2 of the championship.
This weekend’s race will be run as a closed event, under COVID-19 protocols. As such, the Designated Service Park (DSP) will be closed to spectators, but fans can follow the action online via the RallySafe app, which is available free of charge on both Android and iOS.
The Mpumalanga 400 is a so-called Super Event, which will start with a 10km-long qualifying loop at 10:30 on Friday, 26 March. The results of the qualifier will determine the starting order for Loop 1 of the race, which kicks off at 13:30 on the same day. More action follows on Saturday, 27 March, starting with Loop 2 at 08:00. A final loop will take place directly after Loop 2, with the total race distance adding up to approximately 400km.