The Nissan Motorsport team of Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody pickups made a near clean sweep in the 2004 Sun City 400 Off-Road race, taking overall victory and two class wins in the tightly contested Production Vehicle Category.
No less than five Nissans crossed the finishing line in the top six with only the Ford Ranger of Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer disturbing the Nissan sequence.
The Midrand-based team clinched their third consecutive Sun City 400 victory, extending Nissan’s overall victories to four out of four for the 2004 season and 23 wins from 29 events since Nissan entered the championship in 2001.
The top four sequence was much the same as that of the recent Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana with Nissan taking 1st, 3rd and 4th overall with class victories in Classes T and D and the Ford in 2nd position.
This time however it was Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan who claimed their second victory of the season after also winning the opening round of the 2004 SA ABSA Off-Road Championship in March in the Nissan Dealer 400
Desert Race winners Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke recovered brilliantly in the tough event in the Northern Province on Saturday, bringing their Class T Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody home in third overall behind the Ford after starting from the back of the 70 car grid. “We hit an ant hill in the time trial on Friday, severely damaging the left front suspension. It also ripped off the steering rack, and we couldn’t repair it in time. We had to start from the back in the main race and battled our way to the front passing 95% of the field,” said Grobler, who hasn’t been exposed to racing in the dust of other competitors for quite some time.
De Villiers and Jordaan had a clean run at the front after starting behind the Ford, but punctures changed the fortunes of the two front running vehicles in the first hour of the race.
“We had a puncture while chasing the Ford, but 20 km further we passed them where they were changing a wheel. I suppose we were just quicker in doing the same job,” said De Villiers, who has recovered completely from his broken elbow that kept him out of the Desert Race.
The next Nissan at the finish was the Arnold Chatz Cars Hardbody of motorcyclists Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford who repeated their Desert Race performance with a brilliant 4th overall and winning Class D by over two minutes from defending Class D champions Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo (GBS Racing Nissan Hardbody).
“We had a good time trial and qualified 1st in our class for the start. We had very little pressure from the Toyota guys, so we took it easy on the first lap,” said navigator Pitchford who joined Cox at the start of the 2004 season.
“Mark Cronje (Toyota Hilux) started pushing us and passed us on the second lap, and we were also passed by the BB Auto Hardbody of Arnold du Plessis, but he broke down just after that. Then Hein pulled up behind us, but stayed there. Our bakkie took a beating because of the very rough conditions, but survived,” Pitchford recalls.
On the third lap with only 50 km to go, they pulled over to let Grobler and Leeke past. “Hannes wasn’t pushing, but there was nothing in it for us to try and keep him behind us,” Pitchford said.
Grobler/Prinsloo arrived at the finish two minutes behind Cox/Pitchford after a puncture 70 km into the third lap without anyone passing them.
The 5th Nissan at the finish was the Class T Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody of ex-champions Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege who battled all race long to see where they were going. The problem – a broken windscreen wiper that couldn’t be fixed.
“We stopped three or four times on the first lap to clean the windscreen, because I couldn’t see where we were going. On the second lap we missed a turn and stalled the vehicle, only to find out the starter motor had packed up. Luckily Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham (Ford Ranger) stopped to give us a pull to get the vehicle going again, and we could race along. It happened a second time and again Schroder stopped to help us,” said Vos.
They also lost 8 minutes in the pits trying to fix the wiper.
Privateers Hein Moolman and Cecil Fencham (Hilux) won Class E ahead of husband and wife Neels and Zelda van der Walt in their privately-entered Nissan Hardbody.
“We were leading Class E on the first lap until the right front side-shaft snapped. We changed it in the pits and charged the field on the second lap only to loose more time changing a flat, and on the third loop again had to drop back because of some overheating,” said Van der Walt.
The Nissan tally of no less than 8 Nissan Hardbody’s of 18 finishers (Ford 1; Toyota 4; Mitsubishi 3; Land Rover 1; Chev 1) was completed by privateers Johan Gerber and Coetzee Labuschagne (GBS Racing Nissan Hardbody; 5th Class D, 12th overall) and Jurie and Andre du Plessis (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody; 4th Class E, 13th overall).