The Proudly South African Nissan off road racing team dominated the Mafikeng 500, round six of the Absa Off Road Championship, which was held in the North West Province this past weekend when reigning Production Vehicle champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke led from start to finish to record their third victory of the season.
Grobler and Leeke finished 1m 20s ahead of team mates Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan who started 21st after the power steering on their Nissan Hardbody failed during the 35km Prologue on Friday. The former Production Vehicle champions and winners of two events this season initially struggled to get past the Team Ford Racing Ranger of Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer in the extremely dusty conditions but once they had achieved their objective they were able to set off in pursuit of their Nissan teammates. Despite setting the fastest time by over four minutes on the second loop de Villiers and Jordaan were unable to make an impression on the winners.
Woolridge and Skjoldhammer had to settle for third, almost eight minutes behind the leaders, and complained that while the Ford had the measure of the Nissans in the handling stakes it just couldn’t keep up on the fast sections, of which there were many on the Mafikeng 500.
Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford finished fourth overall and scored their fifth successive Class D win in the Arnold Chatz Nissan Hardbody but they had to fight for victory. Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham were on form in the Team Ford Racing Ranger and set the fastest time in the Prologue. They swapped the lead with Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i and the Nissan pair for much of the first loop of the main race but eventually retired with a broken prop shaft. Cronje and Birkin finished fifth overall and second in Class D to keep their championship hopes alive.
Two privately entered Toyotas upstaged the Castrol Toyota factory teams in Class E for four cylinder powered four-wheel drive vehicles with limited modifications. Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Tyco Toyota Hilux 2.7i) finished seventh overall with Sun City 400 winners Hein Moolman and Cecil Fincham eight overall and second in Class E in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux KZ-TE. Moolman and Fincham led from the start but picked up a puncture near the finish and had to stand by and watch fellow farmers Visser and Badenhorst sneak past and win by 52-seconds.
Long months of development on the Bosal / N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux are starting to pay off for father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt who finished eighth overall and third in Class D ahead of Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton in the Class E Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i and reigning Class D champions Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo in the Class D GBS Nissan Hardbody who rounded out the top ten.
Twenty-two of 31 Production Vehicle starters finished the event.
The Special Vehicle category technically delivered another win for Nissan in that Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau’s Advansoft BAT is powered by a Nissan V6 engine similar to that fitted to the factory Hardbody pickups. Reigning Class A Driver’s champion Bertholdt and Rousseau decided to move from Class D to Class A for the rest of the season and soon showed that he would again be a force in the Special Vehicle category. Despite getting lost in the Prologue and having to start 50th on Saturday morning the pair carved their way through the field to set the fastest time on the first loop and the third fastest time on the second loop to win by 10m 51s from early race leaders John Weir-Smith and Joe Lima in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco. The Lesotho Sun 400 winner Weir-Smith threw away the lead 20km from the finish when he picked up a puncture.
Frikkie Botha and Blackie Swart (Procoat Jimco) recorded their first finish of the season to finish third overall and in Class A with Botswana based Mohammed Noble and Richard Hope fourth overall and first in Class S in the Abe’s Furniture Jimco.
Shameer Variawa and Nadeem Dudhia overcame all manner of problems on the Oven Fresh Biscuits Porter, including starting almost last when the engine cut out on the start line and later getting stuck in a large donga, to finish fifth overall and fourth in Class A while another crew who also started near the back of the field, Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse, brought their Nashua Mobile Jimco home sixth and fifth in Class A.
KZN farmer Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain finished seventh overall and first in Class B in the JRE to extend their championship lead over reigning Special Vehicle Driver’s champion Giel Nel who finished eighth overall and second in class in the LUK / Ate Truggy.
Atang Makgekgenene and Buks Carolin had a race they would rather forget after being delayed for almost an hour with fuel starvation problems on the Total Jimco. Despite the frustration of not being able to challenge for the lead and having to settle for ninth place Makgekgenene scored sufficient points to secure him the Special Vehicle Driver’s Championship crown with two races to go.
Veteran Ernest Corbett and son-in-law Warwick Goosen claimed 10th spot and third in Class B in the Century Property Developments BAT.
Class B vehicles of which four were the locally designed and constructed Zarco Lites filled the remaining seven positions.
Seventeen of the 28 Special Vehicle starters were able to complete the Mafikeng 500 with some of the notable retirements including Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr in the Century Property Developments BAT (Gearbox failure), Henri Kirstein and Renier Jooste in the Atlas Copco BAT (Rear suspension damage), Bevan Bertholdt and Nick Selamolela in the Itech BAT (Power steering failure) and Nick Harper and Andrew Chalupsky in the BAT (Cylinder head gasket).
Total, Atlas Copco, O’Hagan’s, First Prize Trophies, ATS Motorsport Supplies and North West Parks and Tourism who rallied around to rescue the event after the withdrawal of the previous year’s sponsor made the Mafikeng 500 possible.
The next round of the Absa Off Road Championship will be the Toyota Dealer 400 in Lydenburg on October 22 and 23.