With four wins from the first four races this season the Nissan Motorsport team of Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody’s are favourites to win the first-ever Lesotho Sun 400 off road race, round five of the 2004 ABSA SA Off Road Championship, based in Maseru on August 20 and 21.
Reigning off road champions in the production vehicle category, Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke, currently lead the championship in their class T Proudly South African NissanHardbody with 150 points from Ford Racing’s former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in their Ford Ranger (132 points) after winning two of the first four events, in KwaZulu-Natal and Botswana.
Grobler and Leeke have been the form pairing in national championship off-road racing since the second half of the 2002 season (they have won 11 of the last 15 events) and will be keen to get back on the winning trail after finishing third in the most recent Sun City 400 in July. They had to start from 54th place after damaging their power steering in the prologue.
Despite winning the other two events, in the Western Cape and North West provinces, Nissan’s 2001 champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan trail the Ford pair by 18 points after De Villiers missed the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in June.
With a comfortable win in the Sun City event, De Villiers and co-driver Jordaan will have their eyes on another victory in the rugged, mountainous country of Lesotho.
Nissan’s 2002 champion Duncan Vos and co-driver Hennie ter Stege are seeking their first overall win in the third Proudly South African Hardbody. A frustrating season so far with assorted technical problems sees them lying ninth in the overall standings and fourth in class T, so they will be keen to make their mark in Lesotho.
The official factory team will again be backed by the big contingent of Nissan privateers who helped Nissan secure eight of the 18 finishers’ places in last month’s Sun City 400, more than any other manufacturer. Nissan enjoys a comfortable 225-point lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship with 608 points, followed by Toyota (383 points) and Ford (227 points).
Multiple national off-road and enduro motorcycle champion Alfie Cox continues to perform impressively on four wheels in his Nissan Motorsport-prepared Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody in the highly competitive class D.
Three class wins last year with Hennie ter Stege in his first season on four wheels have been backed by three consecutive class wins this year with new co-driver and fellow motorcyclist Ralph Pitchford, the most recent in the Sun City 400 in which they finished fourth overall. They are currently leading class D with 98 points.
Reigning class D champions Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo finally overcame a run of bad luck that saw them fail to finish the first three events this year when they finished fifth overall and second in class D in the Sun City 400 in their Gearbox Services Racing Nissan Hardbody. They will again be backed by GBS team-mates Johan Gerber and Coetzee Labuschagne (12th at Sun City) and JP Augustin and Johan Doubell (non-finishers at Sun City) in their distinctive gold Hardbody pickups.
Also non-finishers at Sun City but back to make amends are Arnold du Plessis and George Baker in their class D BB Auto-backed Hardbody.
BB Auto team-mates Jurie and Andre du Plessis finished 13th in the Sun City event and will be back in business in Lesotho in their class E Hardbody. Also contesting class E and currently lying second in the points standings after finishing second in class and ninth overall at Sun City, their third runner-up result this year, are husband-and-wife Neels and Zelda van der Walt in their diesel Hardbody.