It was their second success in a row after their maiden win together in the Toyota 1 000 Desert Race in Botswana in June. Nissan teams also occupied five of the top six places in the production vehicle category after the grueling 450-km race, described by competitors as the toughest and the best event of the year.
Privateers Arnold du Plessis and John Knox in their Coca Cola-supported BB Auto Hardbody were third overall and second in class D – their best result in off road racing. Topcar magazine’s managing editor Deon Schoeman and Jan Sime enjoyed their best result of the year when they came in fourth overall and third in class D in the Autopage Cellular/Du Pont/Topcar Hardbody.
Brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis were fifth overall and fourth in class D in their Coca Cola-backed BB Auto Hardbody, while reigning national off-road champion Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan recovered well from mechanical problems early in the race to finish sixth overall in their Proudly South African Hardbody.
“It was a tough race,” said Cox at the finish at the Sun City Sports and Recreation Club. “Our lives were made easier by the problems experienced by Hannes and Francois, but we paced ourselves well and the Hardbody performed faultlessly. It was very dusty and the route included a lot of tricky sections with rocks, dry river bed crossings and deeply rutted tracks. Overtaking was not easy and there is always the threat of deflating a tyre on hidden rocks in the grass when you go off the road.”
Grobler and Jordaan, looking to make up for the disappointment of their problems in the Desert Race, where they were delayed by steering and braking problems after crashing into a deep hole, secured pole position for Saturday’s start by winning Friday’s 45-km prologue in style.
They led the race for just 18 km before the Hardbody’s propshaft broke and they were forced to stop and make repairs on the side of a dusty track while the rest of the field, including their team-mates, went past. They got going again in 40th place overall (with 27 special vehicles and 13 production vehicles in front of them after losing some 20 minutes), with the Hardbody now restricted to front wheel drive only, and were forced to drive cautiously the remaining 118 km to the designated service point.
Further problems awaited them 60-km into the 135-km first lap as they were unable to climb out of a deep dry river bed without four wheel drive and they lost another 30 minutes repairing the starter motor when the Nissan stalled and refused to start.
Their service crew replaced the propshaft during the compulsory 15-minute pit stop and they were able to complete the event without any further problems.
A weary Grobler, who was suffering from a bad dose of ‘flu, was characteristically upbeat at the finish. “We had a tough day in the office,” he admitted. “But we had a lot of fun catching and passing at least 22 cars in the last two laps after our problems were fixed.
“The Sun City 400 is always a real tester and this year was no exception. We pushed as hard as we could after our service stop and were pleased with our efforts. I’m not used to having to chase the field and eat their dust – this is now two races in a row – so I’m looking forward to better luck in the next event in Lesotho.”
Thanks to the efforts of Cox, Arnold du Plessis and Schoeman, Nissan also won the manufacturers’ team prize for the day.
Said Nissan Motorsport general manager Glyn Hall: “Today’s results were a great triumph for both the official team and our privateers. I have to congratulate our pit crew. Their feat in getting Hannes and Francois going again after the compulsory service stop, where they were able to replace the propshaft inside 20 minutes, was the result of an excellent team effort.”
Only one of the seven Nissans that started the event was unable to complete the route, six finishing in the top 10. Privateer Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber brought their Raysonics Hardbody home in 10th place overall and seventh in class D, while the unlucky pair was Thomas Rundle and Stavros Yiannakis.
They were second fastest among the class E competitors in their Barden Tyre Services Hardbody in the time trial on Friday and were very disappointed to retire just 70 km into the first lap on Saturday with electrical problems.