It was a Nissan clean sweep in the production vehicle category, with reigning champion Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan in the second class F 3,5-litre V6 Hardbody second overall, 24 seconds behind their team-mates.
Third were Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege, making a welcome return to national championship off road racing after an absence of a year, who finished a further two minutes back in the debut appearance of Nissan’s brand new 4-litre V6 class SP Hardbody.
First class D vehicle and fourth fastest production vehicle was the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i of Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin, who were 26 seconds ahead of Polokwane businessman Arnold du Plessis and Johan Knox in the Coca Cola-backed BB Auto Nissan Hardbody. Third in class was the Ford Racing Ranger of Manfred Schroder and Alec Harris.
Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux) were seventh overall and first in class E in the Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux. Making up the top 10 were Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics/Kodak Nissan Hardbody, who were fourth in class D, Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler (Mastercraft/Ryobi Mitsubishi Pajero), fifth in class D and brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis (Coca Cola BB Auto Nissan Hardbody) sixth in class D.
Scoring their first-ever pole position in the special vehicle category were Will Battershill and Reg Sutton (Jimco), who finished 1 min 13 sec ahead of Gerhard du Plessis and Ferdie Seegers (Jimco). Third, a further 12 seconds back, was the Nashua Mobile Racing BAT of championship leaders Terence Marsh and brother-in-law Michael Whitehouse.
Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter (Wrapsa Aceco) were first in class S and sixth overall.
First in class B and seventh overall in the special vehicle category were championship leaders Evan Hutchison and Trevor Ormerod (Motorite Racing BAT). Eighth overall and second in class B were reigning champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain (JRE), just three seconds ahead of father-and-son Bez and Etienne Bezuidenhout (class B Adenco Sandmaster).
Making up the top 10 was Hermann Sullwald in his single-seater Mighty Mag.
Leading class A contenders in the special vehicle category, brothers Gary and Bevan Bertholdt, had mixed fortunes. Gary and Siegfried Rossouw (Advansoft iBurst BAT) were only 12th overall after having to stop and change a flat wheel. “We were also slowed by an overheating engine,” said Bertholdt. “Now we have the challenge of having to fight our way through the field (they will start 19th overall in the mixed production and special vehicle field of 50 vehicles).”
Bevan, driving his iBurst BAT solo as his regular navigator Nick Selamolela was unavailable this weekend, also had to stop and change a flat wheel, but battled on his own to do the job and only succeeded after 18 frustrating minutes during which the car fell off the jack. “I really missed my team-mate today,” said Bertholdt, who will start tomorrow’s race in 45th place overall and 25th among the special vehicles.
Brandon Harcus, partnered by SA Sports Illustrated editor Steve Smith in his first-ever off road race, provided the afternoon’s highlight for a large group of spectators some 10 km into the prologue route. A power steering pipe broke and sprayed fluid on to the hot exhaust, causing a spectacular fire which the car’s occupants only realised when they smelt the hot oil and recognised that the wildly cheering and waving spectators were trying to tell them they were on fire.
Many of the competitors praised the route, which was described as well-marked, tough, varied, very technical and tight, but also with some high-speed sections that gave them a chance to blow the cobwebs out of their minds and their engines.
The event has been organised by the Koepel Club with assistance from the Pietersburg 4×4 Club and is the first national championship off road race to be held in Limpopo province.
Tomorrow’s 360-km race, which will be held over three laps of a 120-km route centred on the old airport outside Polokwane, starts at 0800 and the first vehicle is expected to cross the finish line at the airport at around 1330.