The high attrition rate on the recent Lesotho Sun 400, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, has resulted in a major points reshuffle in the Production and Special Vehicle categories.
Production Vehicle championship leaders Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke blotted their copybook when they failed to finish the Lesotho Sun 400 after metal braiding on a high-pressure power steering pipe separated from a union and they were forced to retire the Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody before the end of the first 170km loop. They lead the championship by one point from team mates Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan, whose second place finish in Lesotho earned them 35-points and moved them into second place.
Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford made the biggest gain after scoring their fourth successive Class D win in the Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody. They have moved from fifth to third and are only 17-points behind the leaders while in Class D they have a 31-point lead over archrivals Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i. The Toyota pair remain in seventh place in the overall championship and will have to pull out all the stops if they hope to add the Class D title to their 2003 Class E championship win.
Team Ford Racing’s Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer failed to start the main event after Skjoldhammer was rushed to hospital in Bloemfontein in the early hours of Saturday morning with a suspected stroke. Further medical tests revealed that he had had a severe reaction to medication and was ordered to rest. The pair had occupied second place all season but now find themselves in fourth position, one point behind Cox and Pitchford and 18-points behind Grobler and Leeke.
Class E championship leaders Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn from Vryburg have dropped from fourth to fifth in the overall standings after failing to finish the Lesotho Sun 400 in their Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i. There were no Class E finishers so they retain their 39-point lead over Neels and Zelda van der Walt in the Nissan Hardbody and their 56-point lead over Team Ford development crew Baphumze Rubuluza and Khulile Vakalisa.
Lesotho Sun 400 winners Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege gained three places and are now sixth in the overall championship, 41-points behind teammates Grobler and Leeke, and fourth in Class T. Based on current form the pair pose a real threat to the rest of the Class T contenders.
Reigning Class E champions Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin have yet to pick up a Class D win in their Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i but are still handily placed in seventh position but under threat from Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler who are only two points behind in the Master Craft / Playstation Pajero. Zermatten and Schwegler have been models of consistency and are the only crew to have finished all five events run so far.
Husband and wife Neels and Zelda van der Walt are ninth but only have a one point cushion over Class D contenders Paolo Piazza-Musso and Rod Hering in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i who have moved back into the top 10.
1. Grobler / Leeke, Nissan (Class T), 150
2. de Villiers / Jordaan, Nissan (Class T), 149
3. Cox / Pitchford, Nissan (Class D), 133
4. Woolridge / Skjoldhammer, Ford (Class T), 132
5. de Bruyn / de Bruyn, Toyota (Class E), 111
6. Vos / ter Stege, Nissan (Class T), 109
7. Cronje / Birkin, Toyota (Class D), 102
8. Zermatten / Schwegler, Pajero (Class D), 100
There have been some spectacular gains in the Special Vehicle category after a particularly tough Lesotho Sun 400. Special vehicle winners John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt have rocketed 13 places up the championship log, brothers Rudi and Pierre van Graan recorded their first finish to gain eight places and Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse and veteran Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter each moved up seven places.
However, championship leaders Atang Makgekgenene and Buks Carolin who finished second in the Total Jimco have a comfortable 70-point lead in the overall and Class A drivers championships over Mark Corbett in the Century Property Developments BAT.
Corbett and Juan Mohr won the 2000 Roof of Africa and led for most of the way on the Lesotho Sun 400 only to be sidelined six kilometres from the finish with fuel pump problems. The fuel pumps eventually cooled down and they crossed the line in seventh place to keep their championship hopes alive.
Clint Gibson and Mike Brown are third and second in the overall drivers and co-drivers championship respectively after consistent performances in the Praesidium Financial Services BAT with Gibson only six points behind Corbett in the title chase.
Nick Harper and Andrew Chalupsky didn’t finish the Lesotho Sun 400 in their BAT and have dropped from second to fourth in the driver’s championship and second to third in the co-drivers championship respectively.
Class B winners in Lesotho, Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain, have gained four places to move to fifth in the overall championship and have taken over the Class B lead from Adri Roets and Deon de Kock in the Global DAD WPP who were time barred.
Lesotho Sun 400 winners John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt may have gained 13 places but have a huge task ahead of them if they hope to challenge for the championship title. Nothing short of three overall wins in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco and the retirement of the top contenders in the remaining three events in the Absa Off Road Championship will suffice if they are to achieve an almost impossible objective.
Class B leaders up until the Lesotho Sun 400, Adri Roets and Deon de Kock, have slipped two positions down the log and are joint seventh with brothers Hamish and Alistair Stubbs (Fence Erect Viper) who are also contenders for the Class B title.
Shameer Variawa and Nadeem Dudhia have dropped from sixth to ninth after not entering the Lesotho Sun 400 and are only two points ahead of Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse (Nashua Mobile Jimco) who gained seven positions after finishing third overall in Lesotho.
The Class S battle is now effectively a two horse affair after Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter (Wrapsa Raceco) won the class in Lesotho. Mohammed Noble and Richard Hope (Abe’s Furniture Raceco) lead with 31-points with Alberts and Hope joint second with Nic Goslar and Warren Bowie (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco). Goslar will be out of action for the rest of the season after sustaining spinal injuries on the Sun City 400.
Special Vehicle Championship - Drivers:
1. Atang Makgekgenene, Jimco (Class A), 170
2. Mark Corbett, BAT (Class A), 100
3. Clint Gibson, BAT (Class A), 94
4. Nick Harper, BAT (Class A), 88
5. Marcus Taylor, JRE (Class B), 73
6. John Weir-Smith, Jimco (Class A), 66
7. Adri Roets, WPP (Class B), 53 / Hamish Stubbs, Viper (Class B), 53
9. Shameer Variawa, Porter (Class A), 52
10. Terence Marsh, Jimco (Class A), 50
Special Vehicle Championship - Navigators:
1. Buks Carolin, Jimco (Class A), 125
2. Mike Brown, BAT (Class A), 94
3. Andrew Chalupsky, BAT (Class A), 88
4. Gavin Kelsey, BAT (Class A), 80
5. Geoff Minnitt, Jimco (Class A), 66
6. Deon de Kock, WPP (Class B), 53 / Marc de Chalain, JRE (Class B), 53 / Alistair Stubbs, Viper (Class B), 53
9. Nadeem Dudhia, Porter (Class A), 52
10. Mike Whitehouse, Jimco (Class A), 50
The next round of the Absa Off Road Championship is the Mmabatho 500 in the North West Province on September 24 and 25.