TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA is all set for a spectacular showdown in the Kalahari Desert this weekend, when they take on the mighty TGRSA Kalahari Botswana 1,000 Desert Race. The upcoming event is Round 3 of the 2023 South African Cross-Country Series (SARRC), and it is the longest and toughest event on the local calendar.
For 2023, the race has moved back to the area surrounding the town of Jwaneng in Botswana, which has hosted the race multiple times in the past. The area is known for its tight sandy tracks, and with a total race distance of 1,000 km, it is the only marathon event to feature as part of the SARRC.
TGRSA will be fielding a four-car team this year, with championship leaders Henk Lategan and co-driver Brett Cummings spearheading the Toyota Hilux T1+ attack. They will be kept honest by defending SARRC champions Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy, who won here in 2017 and 2018. De Villiers and Murphy also won the Desert Race in Upington last year, with their long-distance experience honed at the Dakar Rally.
Guy Botterill and co-driver Simon Vacy-Lyle will also return to action in the desert. The pair has shown significant pace in the past, and may well prove a force to be reckoned with once the flag drops in Botswana.
The final pairing for TGRSA will feature rally-raid rookie Saood Variawa, partnered with the experienced Danie Stassen as co-driver. Variawa is currently leading the Global Touring Cars championship for TGRSA, and while he has competed in regional cross-country races in the recent past, the Desert Race will be his first foray on the national circuit.
As ever, the team will be utilising the opportunity to continue testing and developing the Dakar-winning GR DKR Hilux T1+. As such, there will be new suspension settings and components in use on certain cars, offering invaluable insight in preparation for future Dakar rallies. One of the cars will also be trialling some new power-steering components, as part of an ongoing test.
“The Desert Race is one of the iconic races on the calendar,” says TGRSA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “It is critical for us to perform well here, as there are big points on offer, and it is very important from a championship point of view. At the same time, the long distances offer exceptional opportunities for testing in tough terrain, and we are looking forward to making the most of this.”
This weekend’s action will get under way with a Qualifying Race, scheduled for 12:30 on Friday. The qualifying route comprises only 61 km of sandy tracks, and will be used to determine the starting positions for Saturday’s start. Competitors will then complete two loops of 200 km each on Saturday, with the results of those loops determining the starting positions for the final day of racing, on Sunday. Two different loops – this time to the west of Jwaneng – will test the crews on Sunday.
The event’s HQ and Designated Service Park (DSP) will be based at the Jwaneng Sports Complex, where access will be strictly controlled. However, fans can view the action from multiple points along the route, and also follow the action on the RallySafe app, which is available free of charge on both Apple and Android devices.