History was made at the 2023 Toyota Gazoo Racing 1000 Kalahari Botswana Desert Race, the third round of the SA Rally-Raid Championship that ended on Sunday in Jwaneng, after three days of extremely tough racing when Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer claimed the victory in their NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger. When their team-mates, Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert finished second, the history books received another inscription.
Gareth and Lance, sons of Neil Woolridge who won the Toyota Desert Race in Botswana a total of three times including in a Ford Ranger in 2001, added their names to the list of winners while the victory drought for Ford, who last won in 2011, was broken.
Lance/Gilbert won the 61 kilometre Pirelli Qualifying Race on Friday, 23 June while Gareth/Dreyer were the winners of the second day and took the overall Production Vehicle Category victory as well as the FIA T1+ win after a grueling race that will be remembered as the ultimate test of man and machine.
After completing almost a thousand kilometres and racing for a total of 11 hours, 14 minutes and 33 seconds (Woolridge/Dreyer), only three minutes 42 seconds separated them from their team-mates with both teams having a relatively clean run on the final day.
They were joined on the podium by Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle (Toyota DKR Hilux T1+) who started the final day from fourth position and arrived at the finish with a broken windscreen after hitting a vulture shortly after starting the second of the two 213 kilometre loops. Botterill/Vacy-Lyle trailed Woolridge/Gilbert by four minutes 37 seconds (11:22:52) and were followed by their team-mates and former winners, Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (11:39:23) who could not make up for the time lost due to electrical issues the previous day.
Fifth place overall belonged to an elated Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid) who won FIA T1 (11:53:01) after not too many issues along the way. They were followed by two more FIA T1 teams that also completed the T1 podium. Johan and Sean van Staden (Renault Duster) enjoyed an uneventful and trouble-free race to finish sixth (12:03:03) while the young Jayden Els (19) and Elvéne Vonk (King Price Xtreme SVR) jumped from 20th position on the first day to being 13th on the second day and finally finishing seventh and winning the coveted Road to Dakar Challenge despite some mechanical issues along the way.
Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte (Red-Lined REVO) finished just off the T1 podium and were not too far behind in eighth place (12:19:30). Two more FIA T1+ teams rounded off the top 10 with Dewald van Breda/Stompie Mynhard finishing ninth (12:23:18) in their two-wheel drive CR6 while Gary Bertholdt ticked off yet another desert race finish, this time with navigator Henry Köhne (Renergen Toyota Hilux T1+) in a time of 12:39:52.
Two more FIA T1+ teams finished this extreme event although mechanical issues forced them to take time penalties to be able to fix their vehicles and continue with the race. The Horn brothers, Johan and Werner (#TeamHilux Toyota DKR T1+) were 13th in the category and seventh in class followed by Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota DKR Hilux T1+). It was another desert race with no luck for Lategan/Cummings who started the day in third place, but a broken driveshaft causing damage to the wheel bearings resulted in the team limping home in 14th place.
In FIA T1, the Blignaut brothers, Fouché and Bertus (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid) completed their first Desert Race in Botswana and did so finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th place and rounding off the top five in the class after rolling their vehicle in the qualifying race then having to battle from the back of the field on the second day.
The Dutch teenager, Pim Klassen and navigator Wade Harris (Red-Lined VK50) experienced gearbox failure on the second day of the race and started the final day from the back, but the team completed their maiden national SA Rally-Raid event and finished 15th overall. Their team-mates, Gerhard and Rudi Heinlein (VK56) also conquered the desert and were 16th despite a few mechanical issues.
Class T was won by Hendrik du Plessis and his son, Heinrich (Ford Ranger) with the team coming home in 12 place after their first attempt at the desert race in Botswana (12:55:45). The Johnstone couple, Bernard and Minette (Neil Woolridge Ford Ranger) showed real determination and overcame everything the desert race threw at them to finish second in class and 17th in the category. Schalk Burger/Henk Janse van Vuuren (King Price Xtreme VW Amarok) broke an input shaft some 90 kilometres before the finish and were among the teams who could not see out the distance.
The tough TGRSA 1000 Desert Race also claimed Red-Lined Motorsport teams Chris Visser/Albertus Venter (REVO T1+) and Nic Pienaar/Carl Swanepoel (REVO) as well as Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen (Ford Ranger T1+) and the German driver, Daniel Schröder and Ryan Bland (Nissan Navara) in the Production Vehicle Category, while Saood Variawa/Danie Stassen (DKR Toyota Hilux T1+) were excluded on the last day after running in the top ten throughout the event. The team had an unfortunate coming together with Visser/Venter.
In the Special Vehicle Category, John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten came out tops with their Zarco Challenger winning the category and walking away with the Class A silverware after a solid performance during the three-day marathon. They finished the race in 13:01:52.
The Class A team shared the overall category podium with the winners of Class G, Geoff Minnitt/Rodney Burke (Hydro Power Equipment Can-Am Maverick) who finished second overall (13:44:13) while the Class P winners, Quintin Lessing/Brendon Smith (CRT) rounded off the podium (14:25:18) after a problem-free and enjoyable race.
Also in the top five were Glen Theron/Craig Galvin (Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick) who were fourth while they claimed the second place in Class G (14:40:29). They were followed by Lood du Preez/Junior Vardy (Farmers Meat Stryker) who finished second in Class A.
After not being able to complete the race on the second day, Khalil Hussain/André Geldenhuys pushed hard on the final day to finish as the Class P runners-up when they brought their Sandmaster home in sixth place. They were followed by Tim Howes/Gary Campbell (BAT Spec 4) who managed to finish third in Class A. Youngster Ian Mostert and his experienced father as navigator, Werner (Moto-Netix Can-Am Maverick) were third in Class G.
The TGR 1000 Desert Race was described as tough and extremely challenging with a good mix of tight and bushy routes as well as fast, open sections. The competitors and teams were full of compliments for the organisers and by all accounts enjoyed the 2023 experience in Botswana.