Nissan Motorsport’s Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke will be looking to repeat their convincing victory of last year and extend Nissan’s winning streak to six out of six when they line up in their Proudly South African Hardbody for round six of the ABSA Off Road Championship, the Mafikeng 500 in North West Province, on September 24 and 25.
Grobler and Leeke, with two wins from five races so far this year, the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, have a slim one-point lead in the overall championship as well as in class T (for modified production vehicles) over team-mates Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan, winners of the Nissan Dealer 400 and the Sun City 400.
Both have failed to score in one event, De Villiers as a result of missing the Desert Race when he broke his elbow in a cycling accident and Grobler as a result of an unusual component failure on the last event in Lesotho.
With a clean sweep of the five events so far - Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege enjoyed a maiden victory together in the most recent Lesotho Sun 400 in August in their class T Proudly South African Hardbody - Nissan will be aiming to preserve their unbeaten record this year and extend their long-time dominance of national championship off road racing to 24 wins from 30 races.
Nissan is on course to win its fourth consecutive drivers’ championship (De Villiers was champion in 2001, Vos in 2002 and Grobler in 2003) and, with a 289-point lead over second-placed Toyota with three events remaining, is virtually assured of its fourth successive manufacturers’ championship since first entering off road racing in 2001.
In between events the Nissan Motorsport team has been hard at work completely stripping and rebuilding each of its red and grey cars. “Our focus in preparing for this event has been on reliability,” says Nissan Motorsport manager Glyn Hall. “A high-pressure power steering pipe pulled out of its fitting on Hannes’ car on the last event (resulting in his first non-finish this year) and after successfully pressure testing every hose on all of our cars in preparation for this next event, we believe it was a freak failure which, hopefully, won’t happen again.”
Former multiple off road and enduro motorcycle champion Alfie Cox, in only his second full season on four wheels and his first with fellow former motorcycle racer Ralph Pitchford, has firmly established himself as the man to beat in the highly competitive class D (for near standard six cylinder production vehicles).
They have convincingly won their class in their Nissan Motorsport-prepared Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody in each of the last four events and are a remarkable third overall in the championship, a single point ahead of the class T Ford Ranger of former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, and a comfortable 31 points ahead of their nearest class D rivals, Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin (Toyota Hilux).
The other Nissan privateers will be hoping for better luck than they had on the Lesotho event, which was particularly tough on the non-factory teams and saw just seven production vehicles (including three from Nissan Motorsport) being classified as official finishers. Hein Grobler will be back with regular co-driver Gerhard Prinsloo in the class D GBS Racing Nissan Hardbody after missing the Lesotho event. The reigning class D champions, who have had to endure a frustrating season of mechanical problems and four non-finishes, will be keen to make amends in the Mafikeng 500.
They will be supported by GBS team-mates Johan Gerber and Coetzee Labuschagne and JP Augustin and Johan Doubell in their class D Hardbody pickups. Also contesting class D will be the BB Auto Hardbody of Arnold du Plessis and George Baker, who were unfortunate to be time-barred while still running in Lesotho after overcoming early problems in the race.
Nissan’s challenge in the competitive class E (for near standard four cylinder production vehicles) will again come from husband and wife pair Neels and Zelda van der Walt in their diesel Hardbody and brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis in the second BB Auto Hardbody.
The Van der Walts currently lie second in the class title race, 39 points behind the father and son pair Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Toyota Hilux), and are a creditable ninth in the overall championship. The Du Plessis brothers are fourth in the class E standings.