Nissan Motorsport, six times winners of the popular KwaZulu Natal round of the Absa Off Road Championship that Nissan has sponsored for the past eight years, start this weekend’s (May 15 and 16) Nissan Sugarbelt 400 as firm favourites following their victories in the opening two rounds of the 2009 Absa Off Road Car Championship.
Reigning production category champion Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford won the Adenco 400 in the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape 400 in the Donaldson Nissan Navara, extending Nissan’s winning streak to eight events since the Eastern Cape race in 2008. The pair currently lead the drivers’ and co-drivers’ championships overall and in the premier class SP by a healthy 28 points and 15 points respectively.
They won the KZN event last year and will be looking to repeat the feat on their way to Vos’s third successive drivers’ championship and fourth overall.
Second in the 2009 championship after a fourth and a third in the opening rounds are Donaldson Nissan Navara team-mates Ivar Erik Tollefsen and Quin Evans, who are a single point ahead of Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Toyota Hilux). The Norwegian/English pairing, who finished a remarkable fourth in the Dakar Rally Argentina-Chile in January in their South African-built racing Navara, are enjoying their best season’s start so far since first coming to South Africa to compete in 2007.
Veteran four-times former champion Hannes Grobler will be looking for his first race win since he and co-driver Juan Mohr won three in a row in the third factory Donaldson Nissan Navara in rounds five to seven last year.
The formidable factory trio will be backed by the privateer Regent Racing Nissan Navara of former special vehicle champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald, who have had a steady start to their first season in the production vehicle category in the ex-Duncan Vos pickup.
Reigning class D champions Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) have a bit if a mountain to climb if they are to retain their title after failing to finish either of the first two rounds. They won the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 last year and will be hoping for a repeat success in the Kwa Zulu Natal canefields to kickstart their championship campaign this weekend.
Former circuit racing and international karting champion Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie will be flying the Nissan flag in class E in a Nissan Hardbody prepared by Nissan Motorsport. Poulter, a circuit racing and international karting champion, has impressed in his first season of off road racing and, with the experienced Howie reading the route notes, can be expected to once again push the established front runners in his class.
Nissan, manufacturers’ champions six times in the last eight years, leads this prestigious championship by 16 points from arch rivals Toyota after the first two rounds despite being heavily outnumbered in terms of entries.
“We’ve made a very satisfactory start to the season,” acknowledged Glyn Hall, general manager of Nissan Motorsport. “But we are under no illusions about the tough challenge that lies ahead. The competition is fierce and the nature of the events has changed this year, with the focus on slowing the cars down and providing a more technical challenge. The past two events have been physically tougher on both crews and cars and we are taking each race one at a time, concentrating on reliability and getting our cars to the finish.
Nissan Acknowledges Its Sponsors and Specialist Official Supplier and Technical Partners Nissan Motorsport enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Atlas Copco (pneumatic tools), Bosch Automotive, Champion (spark plugs), Donaldson (air filters), Edgecam (machining software specialists), Eibach (springs), Ferodo (brake pads), First Car Rental, LUK (clutches), Mastercraft (tools), Pro Engineering, Sasol Oil (fuels and lubricants) and SKF (bearings).