Team ATS Motorsport underwent something of a baptism of fire on their first Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, which ended on Sunday, June 25. The highlight of the weekend was second place in Class S in the second of two heats but it was also an event which taught them some tough lessons – especially during Saturday’s ‘first-half’.
A cautious approach in Friday’s prologue, which determined starting positions for the following day, saw them finish fourth in class S, the 4.0-litre Ford Ranger not handling entirely to their liking either.
Minor adjustments were made overnight and the crew set off on Saturday morning for the first of a pair of 210-kilometre loops from the Jwaneng Sports Complex, the route taking competitors mainly in a Southerly direction.
“We focussed on getting into a rhythm and we were happy with our pace,” said driver Richard Leeke. “But then we had three punctures in rapid succession and with both our spares used, we had to continue with a flat rear tyre for about 20 kilometres.”
Eventually another competitor offered them a spare but the wheel wasn’t a perfect fit, and wouldn’t fit perfectly on the hub. Leeke and co-driver Henry Köhne soldiered on as best they could but were ultimately time-barred on arrival at the service point, and were registered as a DNF (did not finish) for the day.
The pair put the disappointment behind them and focussed on the next day, a pair of wiser heads in the cabin of the Ranger as Sunday dawned crisp and clear.
A measured approach paid dividends and the pair managed their tyres and the conditions carefully, applying what they had learnt the day before to good effect. The Ranger ran flawlessly and the two decided to play it safe on the second lap – with conditions becoming rougher after the compulsory service – to ensure they finished.
“It has been a tough weekend for us,” admitted Leeke. “It was very different from anything that Henry and I have experienced this season. Nevertheless, what we have learned is going to be invaluable, and thanks to the points scored on Sunday we remain optimistic of a good class result in our maiden South African Cross Country Series season.”