Nissan Motorsport made it a hat trick of wins in the Nissan Dealer 400 on Saturday when reigning national off road champion Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan won the second round of the Absa Off Road Championship in the Darling area near Cape Town in their Proudly South African Hardbody pickup.
It was Nissan’s 26th win in 34 starts and saw Grobler, the winningest driver in off road racing, return to the top step of the podium after a disappointing second place in the season-opening Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in March. He led from start to finish after winning Friday’s 42 km prologue by just 20 seconds from team-mate Alfie Cox.
The Midrand-based team, off road champions for the past four years, were robbed of a certain 1-2 finish when the sister class F (for modified production vehicles) Proudly South African Hardbody of Cox and co-driver Ralph Pitchford was forced to retire less than 50 km from the finish with transmission problems. “We heard an ominous sound coming from the diff or gearbox and reluctantly decided to call it a day to avoid any further damage,” said a disappointed Cox.
With Ford not entering their class F Ranger V6 for Nissan Sugarbelt 400 winners Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, Grobler and Jordaan now move to the top of the points table in the driver and co-driver championships respectively.
“We had a trouble-free run,” said a beaming Grobler surrounded by well-wishers and fans at the finish at the Darling Club soon after 12 noon, four hours after the start. “Francois and I were very disappointed to lose the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, which we were comfortably leading when we were forced to stop to change a flat wheel.”
Grobler, who has announced his intention to retire at the end of this year after a distinguished 29-year career in motor sport, is determined to take leave of the sport he loves and has served so well with a fourth driver championship.
The recently turned 50-year-old was delighted with his popular win, particularly as he had little time to practice before the event after taking over the Nissan dealership in Hermanus at the beginning of April.
Manfred Schroder and Alec Harris were a surprised and worthy second overall in their class D Ford Ranger, finishing over 35 minutes behind the winning Nissan. Third overall and second in class D (for near-standard six cylinder production vehicles) were Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in their Toyota Hilux, a further 3 min 35 sec in arrears.
Winners of class E (for near-standard four cylinder production vehicles) were Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in a Toyota Hilux, who finished fifth overall, 7 min 8 sec ahead of father-and-son Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in their class E Toyota Hilux.
Best of the Nissan privateers were brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis in their BB Auto/Coca Cola Hardbody, who finished eighth overall and fourth in class D. Team-mates Arnold du Plessis and Johan Knox, who had a good prologue, finishing eighth overall and third in class D, were forced to retire just 50 km into Saturday’s race with a broken gearbox.
Topcar magazine managing editor Deon Schoeman and Jan Sime were on course for a top three finish in class D in their Topcar/Autopage/Du Pont Hardbody when they were sidelined with a broken wishbone balljoint just three kilometres into the third and final 115-km lap.
Coetzee Labuschagne and Johan Gerber in their GBS Racing/Raysonics Nissan Hardbody started from the back of the field after a collapsed valve seal and resultant broken piston prevented them from starting the prologue.
They bought a second-hand engine block in nearby Malmesbury and worked until 5 am on race day to get the car ready for the start. Low oil pressure on the first lap was followed by the warning sound of a bearing knock and they were forced to retire soon after the start of lap two.
Thomas Rundle and Stavros Yiannakis had a frustrating weekend in only their second national championship off road race together. They broke the propshaft on their class E Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody in the prologue and, after borrowing a new one from the Topcar Nissan team, were having a good run when they drowned the distributor on their second trip through a big water splash 10 km from the end of lap two.