Proudly South African Nissan pair Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke’s lead over Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin (Castrol Toyota Hilux 2700i) in the SA Off Road Championship for Production Vehicles…presented by Absa has been whittled away after the recent Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400.

Only seven of the eight rounds count towards the championship and Grobler and Leeke who won the first four events of the season and finished fourth in Tarkastad had to drop 24 points compared to the ten of Cronje and Birkin. Grobler and Leeke had to contend with brake problems on lap one and gearbox problems on lap two of the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400 and in the end settled for fourth overall.

Cronje and Birkin, one of only four crews to have completed each event this year, had a clean run in their near standard bakkie and finished sixth overall and first in Class E last time out and have closed to within 16 points of the championship leaders.

Neither of the two crews can afford a non-finish in the remaining three rounds of the championship if they hope to keep their title hopes alive because there are potentially five teams that are in with a chance of snatching the title away from them.

Third placed Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie have had a consistent run in the Castrol Toyota Hilux KZ-TE and have one win and two second place finishes in Class E to their credit and only trail the leaders by 21 points. Despite starting 50th overall and 25th in the Production Vehicle category and losing front wheel drive towards the end of the race the veteran rally and off road driver finished ninth overall and second in Class E in Tarkastad.

Former champions Giniel de Villiers, who resides in Stellenbosch, and Francois Jordaan (Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody) led from start to finish in Tarkastad to add 35 points to their tally and move from seventh to fourth place in the championship battle. They are 45 points behind their team-mates but only six points ahead of Pietermaritzburg businessman Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer in the Team Ford Racing Ranger who gained four places after finishing second in Tarkastad.

Harrismith based father and son Johan and Marthinus (16) van der Merwe who finished 12th overall and third in Class D in the Chavani Colt Rodeo on the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400 earned enough points to retain their Class D championship lead over Klerksdorp businessmen Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo (GBS Racing Nissan Hardbody) but have dropped a position in the overall standings by virtue of the performances of the Class T brigade.

Tosca farmer Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton’s third place finish on the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400 earned them 26 points and the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser crew is now joint seventh with Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham in the Class E Team Ford Racing Ranger

The KwaZulu Natal cane farmers had a dismal time in Tarkastad and were plagued by a variety of problems including a puncture, a seized cooling fan, a broken engine mounting and a broken torsion bar, which they replaced during the race by stripping one off Zane Pearce’s crashed Ford Ranger.

Scott Abraham (22) and Richard Carolin started 49th overall and 24th in the Production Vehicle category after getting the Atlas Copco/Chicago Pneumatic stuck in a donga during the Prologue for the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400. They finished seventh overall and sixth in Class T behind all the factory entries to retain ninth place in the overall championship but have dropped from joint second to fourth in the Class T championship.

Grobler and Prinsloo (GBS Racing Nissan Hardbody) failed to finish in Tarkastad and have dropped from fourth to tenth in the overall championship and are now four points behind the Class D championship leaders. They are under threat from Deon Schoeman and Jeremy Fall who are third in Class D and only four points behind in the Topcar Nissan Hardbody.

The Special Vehicle Championship has been a three-horse affair all season long with Giel Nel (LUK Africa Truggy), Gerald Mundell and Billy Bond (Prolong BAT) and Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain (Rollerbak Racing JRE) locked in a titanic battle for the title.

Class B championship leader Nel led the overall championship for the first half of the season but KwaZulu Natal based Mundell and Bond grabbed the Driver’s and Co-driver’s lead by a mere one point and seven points respectively after the Oven Fresh Biscuits 500.

Nel finished sixth overall and second in Class B on the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400 to earn 26 points compared to the twenty of Mundell and Bond who now trail the Germiston businessman by five points in the overall championship.

KwaZulu Natal farmer Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain are the reigning Class B champions and have only managed to win the class once this season. They are third in the overall championship, with Taylor third in the Class B Driver’s championship and de Chalain second in the Class B Co-driver’s championship.

Nic Goslar (O’Hagan’s/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco) has moved from eighth to fourth in the overall championship and leads the Class S Driver’s championship after finishing third overall and first in Class S on the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400. Newcomer Goslar cannot afford to relax because Botswana businessmen Mohammed Noor and Mohammed Moultsen (Superveg Raceco) are only four points behind in the Class S championship.

Special vehicle category winners on the Nissan Dealer 400 and Oven Fresh Biscuits 500 Atang Makgekgenene and Mike Stangl (Total SAM Racing Jimco) retired after lap one in Tarkastad. The Botswana businessman has dropped a position to fifth in the Driver’s championship while Stangl retains his third spot in the Co-driver’s championship.

Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400 winners Gary Bertholdt and Brandon Harcus (BAT) have rocketed up the championship log and are sixth and fourth in the Driver’s and Co-driver’s championships respectively.

The locally designed and constructed BAT vehicles have become a force with which to be reckoned and apart from winning overall in Tarkastad a BAT also crossed the line first in Class B with Clint Gibson and Mike Brown behind the wheel of the Praesidium Financial Services BAT. The KwaZulu Natal based crew is seventh in the overall Driver’s championship and fifth in the overall Co-driver’s championship with Gibson third and brown second in Class B.

There’s a lot at stake for some of the established names and many newcomers to the SA Off Road Championship…presented by Absa and with three rounds remaining competition is expected to be fierce.

The next round of the championship is the Sun City 400 on September 26 and 27.