The Proudly South African Nissan Off Road Team continued its dominance of the Absa Off Road Championship when former Production Vehicle champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan led from start to finish on the Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga on Saturday. Reigning Production Vehicle champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke made it a Nissan one-two when they crossed the line 3m 32s behind their teammates. The two crews had been separated by no more than 30 seconds for most of the gruelling race, which set the scene for a nail biting finish, but a puncture in the closing stages of the event put paid to any hopes that Grobler and Leeke had of making a last ditch attempt to grab the lead.
Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer finished third, a further 5m 1s behind, in the Team Ford Racing Ranger. Woolridge was delighted with the vehicle, which never missed a beat throughout the event, but disappointed that he didn’t have more horsepower at his disposal.
The battle in Class D produced much excitement with reigning Class E champions Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin finishing fourth overall and scoring their first class win of the season in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i after initially coming under pressure from Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham in the Team Ford Racing Ranger and Class D championship leaders Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford in the Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody. Despite clutch failure on the Ford Schroder and Peckham managed to finish fifth overall and second in Class D while Cox and Pitchford, who have scored five successive class wins this season had to be content with 14th overall and sixth in Class D after experiencing prop shaft problems.
Rookie Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton finished sixth overall and romped to victory in Class E in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i. Many pundits regard Cronje’s polished performance as the drive of the day with the youngster beating some highly fancied crews in more powerful equipment to the finish line.
Off road stalwarts Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler had their fair share of problems on the Master Craft / Playstation Pajero and, typically, spent time towing fellow competitors out of mud and other tricky situations. There efforts were rewarded with seventh overall and third in Class D with the now ageing vehicle the only one to have completed every event this season.
Father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt finished eighth overall and fourth in Class D in the Bosal / N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux with Class E championship leaders Hugo and father Jaap de Bruyn, ninth overall and second in Class E. Paolo Piazza-Musso and Rod Hering (Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i) finished 10th overall and fifth in Class D after losing 20 minutes to replace a broken front drive shaft and faulty power steering.
The Special Vehicle category initially had the makings of a closely fought scrap with at least ten Class A crews in with a chance of winning on the Toyota Dealer 400 but in the end the victory and the Special Vehicle championship went to Atang Makgekgenene and Buks Carolin in the Total Jimco. Makgekgenene has now won four of the seven events run this season with Carolin sharing the cockpit with him on two occasions.
Last year’s Toyota Dealer 400 winners Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr led initially but had to settle for second after losing time in the pits to replace a torn CV boot on the Century Property Developments BAT.
Clint Gibson and Mike Brown, who missed winning last year’s event my mere seconds, picked up two punctures on the first 199km loop but still managed to finish third overall in the Praesidium Financial Services BAT.
Northern Regions Off Road Championship contenders Ge’ Jooste and Freddie Pretorius (Atlas Copco Sandmaster) finished fourth overall and in Class A with Frikkie Botha and Blackie Swart fifth overall and in Class A in the Procoat Jimco.
The rest of the Class A challengers fell by the way side on-by-one. Brandon Harcus’ debut in the new single seater BAT started off well when he out qualified the rest of the Special Vehicle field by 1m 19s in the Prologue and then led the main event until picking up a puncture, which cost him five places, and then later crashing into a culvert at high speed. Lesotho Sun 400 winner Johan Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt started 48th and had made up 20 places in the first 50km when a drive shaft broke on the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco. Mafikeng 500 winners Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau started 43rd in the Advansoft BAT and had made up 27 places before being forced to retire with mechanical problems while Bevan Bertholdt and co-driver Nick Selamolela called it a day when the clutch on the Itech BAT failed. Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse (Nashua Mobile Racing Jimco) retired after hitting a rock and damaging the front suspension as did Henry Kirstein and Renier Jooste (Atlas Copco BAT) when a bolt on the power steering sheared off.
The Class B field was decimated when the bulk of the large entry was forced to retire on lap one due to them not being able to negotiate an extremely steep pass in the rugged Steenkampsberg mountain range.
Reigning Special Vehicle drivers champion, Giel Nel, emerged the winner in the LUK / Ate Truggy and the scene is now set for a dramatic fight for the Class B championship title on the Carnival City Casino 400 in November.
John Thomson and Clinton McNamara (Ormond Zarco Lite) finished second in Class B ahead of last placed finishers and Class S winners Archie Rutherford and Evan Hutchinson in the Ruthcon Raceco.
The SAM organised event drew an ecstatic response from all competitors who rated the Toyota Dealer 400 as the best organised event and the demanding route as the best they had encountered in many years.
The final round of the Absa Off Road Championship, the Carnival City Casino 400 in Brakpan on November 19 and 20, will be a thrilling conclusion to an action packed season with overall and class championships in all but one of the classes still to be decided.