Nissan Motorsport’s team of three Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody racing pickups is again the one to beat in round four of the ABSA Off-Road Production Vehicle Championship in North West Province July 23 and 24.
The Midrand-based team is aiming for a third successive win in the Sun City 400, which would extend Nissan’s dominance in national championship off-road racing to 22 wins from 28 events since Nissan entered the championship in 2001.
After winning the last two events of this year, reigning champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke lead the 2004 championship standings with 122 points. Second on 97 points is the works Ford Ranger of former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, the only other team to have won a national championship event in the last 18 events. The Ford pairing, who finished second in the most recent Toyota 1 000 Desert Race in Botswana in June, won the 2003 season-ending Carnival City Casino 400 event in November.
Aside from Woolridge and Skjoldhammer, Grobler and Leeke’s biggest competition will again come from Proudly South African Nissan team-mates Giniel de Villiers/Francois Jordaan and Duncan Vos / Hennie ter Stege in their class T Hardbody V6 double cab pickups. Former multiple touring car champion and 2001 off road champion De Villiers, now recovered from the broken elbow that kept him out of the Desert Race, and Jordaan will be keen to return to the winning ways that saw them take the opening round of the season in the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape in March.
Vos and new partner ter Stege, who teamed up with the former touring car driver and 2002 off road champion after the retirement of Mike Griffith at the end of last season, are looking for their first overall win in their Hardbody.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” says Glyn Hall, general manager of Nissan Motorsport, who stood in for the injured De Villiers in the Desert Race. “We’re having a good run, but we continue to work very hard to stay ahead in this ultra competitive form of motor racing.”
Thanks to good support from privateers, Nissan enjoys a commanding lead in the manufacturers’ championship with 401 points, ahead of Toyota (306) and Ford (192).
The official factory team includes the class D Arnold Chatz Cars Hardbody of multiple national off-road and enduro champion Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford, whose fine third overall and first in class in the Desert Race sees them in second place in the class championship, just eight points behind leaders Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the factory-entered Castrol Toyota Hilux.
A strong contingent of privateers is again expected to contribute generously to Nissan’s attempt to win the manufacturers’ championship for a fourth successive year.
Hein Grobler and co-driver Gerhard Prinsloo head the strong three-car Gearbox Services Racing team of gold Nissan Hardbody pickups competing in class D (for production vehicles with six-cylinder engines). The former class D champions have had a tough start to the new season and will be looking for their first finish in four races. Team-mates Johan Gerber and Coetzee Labuschagne, have fared little better so far, with just one finish in three outings, while JP Augustin and new co-driver Johan Doubell, who took over from JP’s wife Linda for the last event, are seeking their first finish together.
BB Auto’s Arnold du Plessis and George Baker will be back in their class D Hardbody, while team-mates Jurie and Andre du Plessis, one of only 11 finishers in the tough Desert Race, will be looking for another good result in their class E (four-cylinder production vehicles) BB Auto Hardbody.
Husband and wife team Neels and Zelda van der Walt, are having another steady run this year in their class E Hardbody and are currently third in the class points standings, 43 points behind leaders Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Toyota Hilux), after good results in the first two rounds of the year.