The penultimate round of the 2023 South African Rally-Raid Championship takes place in the Free State town of Welkom this weekend, and TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA’s Henk Lategan, partnered with Brett Cummings as co-driver, arrive at the event trailing the championship leader by 3 points. At the same time, their teammates are hot on his heels, so it is imperative for Lategan to not only push hard, but also keep it clean – a tough task at the best of times, but even more so when the championship is at stake.
Lategan/Cummings dominated early in the season, bringing their mighty Toyota Hilux T1+ home in first place at the two opening rounds of the season. But then came a disappointing TGRSA 1,000 Desert Race, where the pair bagged only 11 points out of a possible 45, since the Desert Race counts for 1.5x the normal points due to its “marathon” status. Suddenly, the pressure was on, as the momentum swung towards Ford’s Gareth Woolridge.
But Lategan/Cummings fought back at the first of the Parys 400’s two races, scoring maximum points, only to slip down the order during the second of the weekend’s races. This means that the TGRSA pairing find themselves with 116 points in the bank, versus the 119 scored by Woolridge, with two rounds to go. The first of these is the Welkom 400, which takes place on Friday and Saturday this weekend.
Behind Lategan/Cummings, two crews are within striking distance: Giniel de Villiers and his co-driver, Dennis Murphy, are just 2 points behind their teammates; while Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle, in a third TGRSA Toyota Hilux T1+, are on 109 points and well within reach of the crews ahead of them.
“This makes for a very interesting end to the season,” says TGRSA Team Prinicpal, Glyn Hall, of SVR/Hallspeed. “Our first hurdle is obviously to score enough points to beat Gareth. But beyond that, it will be entertaining to see how all of this plays out. And we’re facing two races where we’ve never been before to end the season, which should make things even more interesting.”
While the team’s fourth pairing, that of Saood Variawa and co-driver, Danie Stassen, are well down the championship order as they only joined the SARRC at Round 3, Variawa has proven his pace, and may well play a role in the eventual outcome of the season.
“While Saood and Danie are out of the title fight, they could end up scoring points at the head of the field, which could truly put the cat among the pigeons in terms of the overall championship,” concluded Hall.
Officially known as the Renergen 400, this weekend’s racing action will get underway at 10:15 on Friday morning, as the crews take on a qualifying route of 15 km. The outcome of this short, sharp race will be used to determine the eventual starting positions for Saturday’s main race, which kicks off at 08:00. The main race will feature two loops of 164 km each, with a 30 minute service break splitting the two loops. The Race HQ and Designated Service Park (DSP) will be situated at the Phakisa Raceway, but fans who are unable to make it to the Free State this weekend can follow the race via the RallySafe app, which is free to download on both Apple and Android smartphones.