With just two rounds left of the 2004 ABSA Off Road Production Vehicle Championship, Nissan Motorsport’s Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke have their second overall championship in sight and are aiming at achieving their fourth and Nissan’s seventh win of the year in their Proudly South African Hardbody pickup.
Grobler (champion driver in 1986 and 2003) and Leeke (champion co-driver in 1984 and 2003) are once again the team to beat in round seven of the eight-race championship, the Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga Province October 22 and 23.
A win by the veteran pair or by team-mates and former champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan in their Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody will extend the Midrand-based team’s unbeaten run in this year’s championship to seven successive wins. Nissan has won 24 of the last 30 events since the start of the 2001 season.
But unlike last year, when Grobler and Leeke led the championship by 18 points going into the Mpumalanga event and went on to win the race, this year they lead team-mates De Villiers and Jordaan by just eight points after amassing 187 points from three wins and two other top-three placings.
De Villiers and Jordaan, who won the championship in Nissan’s debut year in off-road racing in 2001, have accumulated 179 points through two wins and two second places behind team-mates Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege (in the Lesotho Sun 400 in August) and Grobler and Leeke in last month’s Mafeking 500.
So the class T Nissans’ closest competition will again come from the works Ford Ranger of former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, who have 157 points
Also in with a chance of winning the overall championship should either of the class T Hardbody pickups falter in the final two events are Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford, who are currently third overall in their class D Arnold Chatz Cars Hardbody with 165 points.
Cox, a multiple off-road and enduro motorcycle champion and star of the Dakar Rally, has dominated class D this year, winning the last five events and opening a useful 36-point gap over nearest rivals, Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the works Toyota Hilux.
The official Nissan Motorsport entries will again be backed by a big contingent of Nissan privateers, whose consistent points scoring has helped Nissan amass an unbeatable 882 points in the prestigious Manufacturers’ Championship. Toyota is currently second with 587 points and Ford third with 279 points.
Former class D champion Hein Grobler and co-driver Gerhard Prinsloo head the three-car Gearbox Services Racing team of gold Nissan Hardbody pickups, which has made its mark in this closely contested class. Together with team-mates JP Augustin and Johan Doubell and Johan and Riaan Gerber, they will carry the challenge to the other class D contenders.
Also contesting class D in his BB Auto-backed Nissan Hardbody is Arnold du Plessis and co-driver George Baker, with teammates Jurie and Andre du Plessis contesting class E in their four-cylinder Hardbody.